The politics of corruption

Posted: Jul 19, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In sports they call it a "rebuilding season." That's when the previous coach has so thoroughly screwed up a team that a new one is enlisted to change everything from players to playbooks to practice schedules -- all while trying desperately to win a few more games than his predecessor. By now, it ought to be obvious that there are rebuilding seasons in politics, as well. Dwight Eisenhower inherited the Korean War and a stagnant economy from Harry Truman. It took the man who liberated Europe two years to end the war and get the economy on the right path. Lyndon Johnson handed Richard Nixon the Vietnam War and a deeply divided nation. The Nixon rebuilding season ended at the Watergate. After four disastrous years of capitulating to communism, foreign policy fiascos, economic "stagflation" and hostages, the American people fired Jimmy "Malaise" Carter and hired Ronald Reagan, who dubbed his rebuilding season, "Morning Again in America." All but a handful of liberal partisans, media elites and cynical academics acknowledge that Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan each had "rebuilding seasons." But suggest that George W. Bush deserves a rebuilding season because of problems he inherited from William Jefferson Blythe Clinton's "most ethical administration in history," and you invite an attack on your judgment, scholarship, parentage and mental health. That's because so many in academe, the so-called mainstream media and Democrat leadership deny how bad things really were during the "Clinton era." Unfortunately for President George W. Bush, his rebuilding season has been complicated by the reality that Clinton left behind more serious problems than dirty sheets in the Lincoln Bedroom and stained dresses in the Oval Office. Within days of taking office, President Bush made a whirlwind tour of military bases and units. He found a defanged, demoralized American military, reeling from eight years of back-to-back deployments engineered by Kofi Annan, recruiting and retention shortfalls, equipment and training deficiencies, homosexuals in the ranks, women in combat, "gender-neutral" recruit training, blue berets on soldiers' heads and U.N. flags sewn to their shoulders. Bush also learned that the rest of our national security apparatus was in equally bad shape. He was handed an intelligence community emasculated by Clinton cronies at the CIA, an FBI so riddled in controversy that it was at war with itself and a nuclear weapons lab so infamous for leaks that insiders called it the Lost Almost Nuclear Secret Clearing House. Worse still, the new president inherited an intractable foe emboldened by the Clinton administration's inept responses to truck bomb attacks against our barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the World Trade Center, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the deadly assault on the USS Cole: Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terror network. Yet, it is still politically incorrect in Washington to point out that our problems in combating terrorism stem from the last administration's moral rot. The same is true of the latest controversy -- the discovery that the slogan, "It's the Economy, Stupid," had a sequitur, "So Anything Goes!" Bill Clinton didn't invent commercial greed, investor fraud or cooked books. But once he showed us that there was no accountability in the Oval Office, it was easy for the corporate boardrooms to follow suit. And that's just what happened at Enron, Global Crossing, Xerox, MCI-WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco International and a host of others. Enron -- the now defunct energy trading company -- started using shady partnerships to inflate earnings and mask debt in 1997. But it wasn't until November 2001 -- during the Bush administration -- that the SEC opened a formal inquiry to investigate conflicts of interest the company may have had with these partnerships and former CEO Andrew Fastow. That investigation exposed the culpability of Arthur Anderson's auditors in these shenanigans. MCI-WorldCom, America's No. 2 long-distance carrier, began to cook its books under the watchful eye of the Clinton administration, as early as 1999. This might never have been revealed had not the Bush SEC opened an investigation in March 2002. Xerox apparently started using accounting gimmicks to manipulate its earnings numbers back in 1997. This discovery -- which forced the company to restate $6 billion in earnings and pay a $10 million penalty -- was made by the SEC in April 2002. The much-maligned Bush SEC has opened an investigation of Network Associates to determine if the company masked expenses and inflated revenues during the "big boom" Clinton-era years, 1998 thru 2000. And last month, the SEC filed accounting fraud charges against several former executives of Rite Aid Corp. for overstating $2.3 billion in pre-tax income between May 1997 and May 1999. In an effort to root out any more past corruption, the SEC is now requiring the CEOs and the CFOs of 945 public companies to certify in writing, under oath, that the reports they filed with the SEC are accurate. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan described Clinton-era corporate hijinks as "infectious greed." Bush characterized it as an era of "binge" drinking, and we are now in the "hangover" phase. But it's worse than that. The leaders of the last administration used the Lincoln Bedroom like a vending machine, cashed in on White House coffees, shook down Buddhist monks and proclaimed that there was "no controlling legal authority." They led by example, and too many followed. And as for those who whine that conservatives like me just can't let Clinton go -- how can we? He keeps coming back to haunt us. It really is time for a "rebuilding season."
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