Enron Convictions Tar Bush, Says Newsweek’s Howard Fineman

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman says:

If you want a date to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era in American life, you may as well make it this one: May 25, 2006. The Enron jury in Houston didn’t just put the wood to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The jurors took a chainsaw to the moral claims of the Texas-based corporate culture that had helped fuel the rise to power of President George W. Bush.

(What “moral claims” did the “culture” make? Is Fineman claiming that businessmen and women in Texas are pervasively and exceptionally immoral?)

What makes the Fineman piece noteworthy — almost hilarious — is Fineman’s admittedly admirable attempt to be fair by including caveats to his thesis that Enron belongs on “the debit side of the Bush-era ledger.” Fineman’s caveats outnumber his proofs by 2-1, resulting in a piece that proves the opposite of what Fineman contends.

Fineman gives six reasons for not tarring Bush with Enron:

1) “There’s no evidence that the president or anyone in his entourage knew about or benefited financially from the house of cards that Lay and Skilling built…”

2) “The Bush Crowd was old school in the energy bidness and viewed Lay & Co. as hustling parvenus…”

3) “Most of what Enron concocted was assembled in the go-go Clinton years…”

4) “Bush’s idea of an oilman was his old Bible-study buddy, the upright, clean-as-a-whistle Don Evans…”

5) “As the Enron scam was falling apart, Lay frantically sought help from [Bush’s Commerce Department]… He got nowhere…”

6) “Bush’s Justice Department pressed the case against Enron — and won.” (#6 is a doozy of a caveat, I’d say.)

Fineman gives three reasons why Bush is tarred by Enron:

1) Bush gave Ken Lay the nickname “Kenny Boy.”

2) “As Texas governor from 1995 to 2000, Bush and consiglieri Karl Rove cultivated the Enronites for their vast connections and money…”

3) “…Bush linked arms with Lay in the belief that market forces alone should guide the production, distribution and use of energy.”

On the last point, I suspect Howard Fineman is under the spell of the old Enron marketing machine. Enron, starting at the very top (Lay) lobbied hard for the Kyoto global warming treaty. This alone is enough to make the “market forces alone” statement laughable.

Bush, by the way, firmly rejected Enron’s entreaties for Kyoto and Kyoto-style mandatory carbon trading schemes, although he has sustained extensive criticism from the mainstream press for doing so.

Let’s call that point number 7 in Bush’s favor — denying Lay’s requests even when it was politically-expedient to grant them.

Maybe Howard Fineman needs a new thesis.

Cross-posted on Newsbusters

Addendum, 5/26/06: Not everyone agrees. As far as Media Matters is concerned, the news media’s coverage of the conviction of two former Enron executives for Enron-related crimes didn’t mention President Bush enough.

After all, as Media Matters reminds us, when Bush was governor of Texas, he sent a typed “happy birthday” letter to Ken Lay (probably typed by a secretary, to boot).

I send typed letters to all my especially close friends on their birthdays, don’t you? Cards and gifts and get-togethers are reserved for the people I only know superficially.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.