Jewish World Review June 25, 2002 / 151 Tamuz, 5762
If the President and his top advisers are spending the majority of their time focusing on the war effort, it is absolutely essential that there be a competent, proactive, media savvy economic team in place. If a football team produces 18 months of low scoring, one can expect a personnel shake-up. Coaches are fired. Players are released or benched. One gets the sense that one reason the Bush front office is so allergic to firing people is fear of the message that would send - i.e., that something went wrong.
But something is wrong. Investor confidence is at an all-time low. The dollar is falling through the floor. The Dow and Nasdaq are in the sewer. Just three weeks ago, as these hurricane winds were gathering, our Treasury Secretary spent several days with U2's Bono touring Africa and talking Third World debt relief. Putting aside the merits of the idea, O'Neill should have been busy on the home front talking up the economy. The We-Are-the-World agenda won't amount to much if the U.S. continues in an economic stagger.
The Administration must be seen as vigorously pursuing the bad apples in the financial world who have helped decimate portfolios and cripple our trust in corporate earnings reports and forecasts. But Bush's top money-man is hedging his bets on new rules for the accounting industry. On ABC's This Week, O'Neill punted: "The legislation needs to go into a conference committee between the Senate and House--we're anxious to see this finally resolved and get it on the President's desk so he can sign it and we can take away any uncertainty about whether people are going to be punished for doing these awful things."
Excuse me if I'm under-whelmed. Are we to believe that the President is just passively standing by, waiting for Congress to hammer things out? He used the bully pulpit last week to boost physical fitness--how about using it promote economic fitness? The Bush team should follow the Ronald Reagan rule - popularity is to be used (to press key initiatives), not merely preserved. We need a Ground Zero-like call to arms for the financial markets--"We hear you, investors, and we're responding!"
Things need to be shaken, not stirred on the economic home front. While
there is only so much the feds should or can do, one thing is certain -
the public must get the sense that the Administration has made restoring
investor trust a top priority. It is not enough for the Treasury Secretary
to huff and puff that corporate scandals are "outrageous" or
"unconscionable." Paul O'Neill seems like a nice fellow, but his time has
long since passed. Ditto could be said about Transportation Secretary
Norm-No-Profiling-Mineta, but I'll save that for another day.
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06/18/02: Picking the next chief