Our personal trainer the president, up and running after his colonoscopy, is trying out a new role -- Scourge of Corporate Misbehavior. This has approximately the same effect as opening the refrigerator door and finding Fidel Castro inside, smoking a cigar. "Hard to believe" barely begins to hint at the surrealism of this development.
The Bush people are going to force us to take this nonsense seriously. I guarantee we will soon be hearing about the Pepster's long-cherished populist beliefs. Ever since the man told us he was the father of the Texas Patients' Bill of Rights (which he first vetoed and then refused to sign), I have been resigned to the Red Queen quality of his political act.
In the interest of lending some verisimilitude to this new pose -- Dubya Does Nader -- let us pass lightly over Bush's own business career, including insider dealing and the time he dumped his Harken Energy stock just before the announcement that the company was going bankrupt. In violation of SEC rules, Bush failed to report that sale to the Securities and Exchange Commission until eight months after the fact. The SEC contented itself with a warning letter but has specifically stated that Bush was "not exonerated."
And let's also pass over his six-year record as governor of Texas, an unbroken stretch of kissing corporate butt, including firing an agency head for enforcing state law against one of Bush's biggest contributors.
Instead, let us concentrate on the repairable: a few things Bush can do to bolster his brand-new image as a champion against corporate malfeasance.
- Appoint someone to head the SEC who has not spent his career as a lawyer for accounting firms, including advising them to destroy documents in case of lawsuit. Chairman Harvey Pitt has been criticized even by The Wall Street Journal's editorial page for being too easy on his old accounting clients and for having lost all credibility after his meeting with Xerox's auditor.
- Stop the government loans to Enron, which is still manipulating Third World energy markets while applying for $125 million in taxpayer money from the Inter-American Development Bank.
- n Come out in favor of the Sarbanes bill, now stuck in the Senate. It's the only serious proposal to deal with corporate chicanery. The Republican plans are a sick joke. Call off Sen. Phil Gramm, who is working closely with the White House to block the bill.
- Stop working with business lobbies to block the accounting reforms that would prevent Enron from happening again.
- In order to avoid the appearance that you have been bought outright by corporate contributions, try not to make a recess appointment to the Federal Elections Commission of someone who has long sworn to oppose every effort at campaign finance reform and who is now destroying the McCain-Feingold bill.
- As you stated in your hilarious radio address, "We must have rules and laws that restore faith in the integrity of American business." So how about reinstating the Clinton policy, which you reversed last year, against giving government contracts to corporations that have repeatedly violated federal laws?
- Supporting the repeal of the alternative minimum tax is probably not smart when giant corporations are already paying less in taxes than the janitors who clean their floors.
- It's not a good time to push for repeal of the estate tax to benefit only the richest 2 percent of Americans.
- Your proposal to relax New Source Review standards at the Environmental Protection Agency stinks: It allows dirty coal-fired power plants and the nation's other biggest polluters to operate indefinitely and to increase their pollution by massive amounts.
- Ix-nay on the Republican effort to block closing the Bermuda loophole in the federal tax code. They've taken to doing things like walking out of committee meetings to keep the bill from coming up. It would clearly pass overwhelmingly if it got to the floor. Time to call the boys in for a chat.
Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.