Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2002 / 11 Shevat, 5762

Bob Tyrrell

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Hucksters will move on to make their next marks -- ENRON? Can someone tell me what an enron might be? Is it to be found in the garden? Is it a recently discovered chemical element?

While on the subject of bizarre, albeit mellifluous sounding, corporate names, what is a Verizon or a Comcast? There is no such word as enron in any dictionary I own, and I own several foreign language dictionaries and two dictionaries of slang. These large corporations that confect apparently parentless names have some explaining to do, at least to the philologically inclined. Enron's officers are now hysterically explaining, but they are not explaining their cooked-up names; rather they are explaining their cooked-up financials. When they are through explaining, Enron will at least have secured its place in the dictionary. It will become a synonym, I think we can all agree, for snake oil.

Ken Lay and his wisenheimers at Snake Oil (corporate offices, Houston) were simply up-to-date hucksters. They and their accountants used the latest sophistications to inflate the stock value of a failing company. They worked the investors, and they worked the politicians. Surprisingly, it appears that the politicians were unimpressed by the hucksters from Snake Oil. They made no reckless or improper efforts to save it from bankruptcy. Nonetheless, politicians being politicians, they are now intent on securing advantage from its demise -- at least political advantage.

With the utmost piety, the pols are returning their Snake Oil contributions and turning on each other. Their goal is to demonstrate that one party was more deeply in cahoots with Snake Oil's executives than the other party. Their recriminations always make me wonder. Do the Democrats and Republicans really have such low regard for each other's integrity, or is it just one of the ways they get themselves elected?

Frankly, at this point in the investigation neither side seems any guiltier than the other. Snake Oil's stock began to bubble in 1997, during the Groper's presidency, and his regulators never bothered to look into Snake Oil's accounting irregularities that had begun at least by then. He and his aides cooperated with Snake Oil's efforts to expand its business abroad. Clinton's former secretary of the treasury made calls on Snake Oil's behalf just days before its con act was exposed.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush was accepting vast support from Snake Oil and its leading huckster, Lay. Bush's aides during the brief year of his presidency were in contact with Snake Oil executives, and his administration also seems to have tried to help Snake Oil to expand its business abroad. The finger-pointing between the two political parties is becoming furious. Yet about all they are going to achieve is the further warrantless discrediting of American government.

It is amazing how much politicians do to discredit their profession and government in general. President Bill Clinton was repeatedly caught flagrante delicto, and his response was to lie and claim that he was only doing what earlier presidents did. The evidence was against him, but who cares? Now the pols are insisting that their political opponents were willing accomplices in Snake Oil's numerous frauds. My reply to the politicians is cease. Both of you seem to be innocent.

One of the certitudes of a corporate scandal such as this is that pontificators in the media and other realms of influence rush forth citing the obvious misbehavior and thump for their own special reform that will prevent future scandals. This, of course, is another sort of snake oil -- public policy snake oil.

Snake Oil, the giant energy corporation, paid no federal corporate taxes in recent years. Reformers shout something is amiss. Congress must overhaul the tax code. What is more, Snake Oil showered contributions on hundreds of pols. The advocates of campaign finance shout something is amiss. Congress must pass campaign finance reform. From all over the political spectrum, the pontificators are gathering. Soon the Rev. Jackson will have a racial angle on the scandal. The feminists will point out that most of Lay's accomplices were males. More women must head giant corporations, and is it not time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to declare her candidacy for the White House? There has never been a corporate scandal while a woman was president!

Eventually things will quiet down. The crooks will go to jail. Some will get away. Hucksters will move on to make their next marks. If there is one thing that the pols might turn their attention to here, it is the boring stuff of accounting. The Enron scandal seems to be a scandal where the hucksters prevailed not on the unprincipled pols, but on the accountants. A low security prison facility awaits its most boring species of inmate.

JWR contributor Bob Tyrell is editor in chief of The American Spectator. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate