Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2002/ Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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It's not Whitewater, but it's all we've got -- IT'S an ill wind that blows nobody good, as the wise man said, and certain Democrats and pundits think the wind that blew Enron away was a warm breeze from Eden.

Some of them are trying to compare Enron to "Whitewater," not necessarily to the penny-ante real-estate development on Arkansas' White River, but to the accumulated smarm and sleaze that followed the Whitewater revelations, relegating Bill and Hillary to history's outhouse.

David Callaway of CBS News, saddling up without a horse, gallops to the conclusion that from what we know already, which is not a lot, Enron is bigger, more awful and "much worse" than Whitewater. The implication is that since Whitewater ended with the impeachment of Mr. Clinton, George W. and Miss Laura might as well pack their bags, or at least hire lawyers.

"Don't expect to see either Bush or Vice President Cheney directly linked to the financial shenanigans that brought Enron down," he concedes. "They won't be. This is not about finding a smoking gun, as much as some Democrats might wish it to be. What it is about, and what the public will get to hear and read about in wrenching detail over the coming months, is how business gets done down in Texas."

Well, stop the press and replate Page One with this news flash - that making money is the national religion in the precincts west of Texarkana. Mamas in most places elsewhere send their kids off to school every morning with the heartfelt admonition to "be careful crossing the street." In Texas, solicitous mamas send their kids off to school every morning with an equally heartfelt admonition: "You learn to sell, now, you hear?"

The vice president earned, if earned is the right word, $46 million the last year he was chairman of Halliburton Inc., a Houston-based energy company, and that was enough to make him the pope, or at least a senior cardinal, of the Texas religion.

But if Ken Lay, the chairman of Enron, was in the business of buying politicians, Ann Richards, the Democratic governor who was unceremoniously upended by George W., must have been his first purchase. It was she who named him to the Governor's Business Council. "He was a supporter of Ann Richards in my run in 1994," Mr. Bush recalled yesterday, "and I decided to leave him in place just for the sake of continuity."

This doesn't necessarily say very much about George W. Bush, but we can't be surprised that the Democrats, for whom money is also the medium of communication with the chairman of the universe, are crying salty crocodile tears over the plight of Enron employees who lost their life savings when Enron, once No. 7 on the list of the Fortune 500 as the world's largest trader in energy, went bust. Democrats can't wait to get back at the Republicans for their gleeful prosecution of the endless proliferation of Clinton scandals. Exploiting Enron beats having to grit your teeth and say nice things about George W., which is what partisan politics has been about in the wake of September 11.

The immediate target of Democratic scrutiny is Attorney General John Ashcroft. Rep. Henry Waxman of California, who has been sniffing through garbage cans all over town trying to find something on George W., used the artifice of a letter to the chairman of Enron, to tell him incriminating things he already knew.

"The amount of [your] contribution was many times greater than the maximum allowable contribution by individuals to federal candidates, which is just $2,000," he said, "and it appears to have been given in a manner that many campaign finance experts believe thwarted the intent of election laws." (The experts are not identified.)

Robert Bennett, an Enron lawyer who was also once one of Bill Clinton's many lawyers (sometimes it does seem a wee world), offers a needed caution. "To my knowledge there's no evidence of wrongdoing yet. You have a business failure and you have a lot of allegations. But allegations are not the same as evidence."

The Bush administration has moved quickly to get to the bottom of the Enron debacle, and the role of Enron's top executives in the bankruptcy. Some of them sold their stock at the top of the market. Did they know what was coming? Did they contrive or manipulate events at the expense of employees who lost their life savings? If so, these are the villains and a few years learning real work in a prison laundry or machine shop probably wouldn't do them any good but it would do the rest of us a world of good.

Bill Clinton and Janet Reno never went after anyone like George W. and his Justice Department have already done, moving to lift up the rocks to see what crawls out. Changes that come of it may be too late to help the authentic victims of the Enron bust, but it's a start.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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