JULY 2, 2001
MAIL FRAUD: If you pay income taxes, sometime in the next few weeks you'll receive a letter touting the recently passed tax cut: "We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed--and President George W. Bush signed into law--the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001." The letter will further inform you that, thanks to this law, a rebate check (up to $300 for individuals, $600 for couples) is in the mail. ("You will be receiving a check," the letter states. "You need to take no additional steps.") Agitprop paid for by the Republican National Committee? No, agitprop paid for by you--the mailing is costing the IRS more than $20 million in postage. Good-government groups like the Center for Responsive Politics are up in arms at this use of a government agency for partisan ends. But that's only the beginning of the letter's dishonesty. After all, the president opposed the rebate tooth and nail when Democrats first proposed it. "Tax relief that gets yanked away next year is not such good news," Bush told a group of businessmen in March. Republican talking points, loyally recited by Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles and columnist Robert Novak, compared the rebate to an airplane randomly dropping checks over the countryside. Indeed, it was only after the tax plan looked as if it could unravel that the White House agreed to the rebate to secure moderate votes. Next up, a helpful government alert about how the White House is enabling you to sue your HMO.
COMPANY MAN: The consensus in Washington is that Bush adviser Karl Rove's meetings with companies in which he held a large financial interest constitute merely the appearance of impropriety. But some pretty damning facts have come to light. Rove, who owned more than $100,000 in Intel stock, met with company executives seeking White House approval for a merger in which Intel had a large financial stake. The administration's defense--that Rove told the executives he had no role in the decision--is directly contradicted by one of the meeting's participants. Another participant sent the White House a thank-you note, singling out Rove's "hard work" on this issue. Nor is Intel an isolated case. Rove has also discussed energy policy with the CEO of Enron. Enron, of course, has a strong interest in Bush's energy plan, and Rove had a strong interest in Enron--again, more than $100,000 worth of stock. So why has this ranked as such a minor scandal? Because nobody thinks Rove's financial interests affected his judgment. As Newsweek, which reported many of these details, asserted, "Even Rove's harshest critics don't claim he has used his power to enrich himself." Why not? After all, it's not as if Rove has a reputation for unimpeachable honesty. Rather, it's because of Rove's politics. If a Clinton adviser--say, George Stephanopoulos--had done the same things as Rove, he would have been suspected of trying to line his pockets. The presumption would be that because of the ideological distance between his perspective and that of Intel or Enron, only naked self-interest could explain such coziness. But in Rove's case, there's no such presumption. His defense--though no one will come out and say it--hinges on the assumption that he would never recommend any action that displeases a major corporation, whether or not he had a financial stake in it. So there's no scandal. Or, at least, no more than usual.
ABRIGHT SHINING LIE: Only a few weeks ago, revelations about former Senator Bob Kerrey's record in Vietnam prompted national soul-searching about war and memory. Well, here we go again--only this time the dishonesty is even more glaring, and the apologia is even more absurd. It seems Joseph Ellis, a history professor at Mount Holyoke College and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Fathers: The Revolutionary Generation, had quite a Vietnam War record himself. Or at least he convinced his students and colleagues he did. In his class, "The Literature of Vietnam," Ellis regularly recounted his experiences as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and his service on the staff of General William Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Vietnam. The only problem, as The Boston Globe reported on June 18, is that Ellis never set foot in Vietnam. Nor, as Mount Holyoke's Forrest Gump liked to boast, did he play a significant role in either the civil rights movement or the anti-war movement. But this didn't dissuade Joanne V. Creighton, Mount Holyoke's president, from defending Ellis's "great integrity, honesty, and honor" and publicly dismissing the relevance of his classroom prevarications. "We at the college do not know what public interest the Globe is trying to serve through a story of this nature," Creighton added. The interest, if we may clarify, is historical truth--a commodity whose importance Ellis, as one of the nation's most visible historians, is supposed to cherish. And which the administration of Mount Holyoke evidently does not.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: "[E]veryone knows the status quo. Some unfortunate individual becomes injured, files a lawsuit and seeks compensation in court, wins, and before he or she is able to use the money to pay medical bills or put his or her life back together, the lawyers get paid. The fact is that while the injured party is still suffering and trying to make better his or her lot in life, the lawyers get paid first and foremost. They often receive large contingency fees for settling a case with a minimum amount of effort."
--Arizona Senator John McCain, speaking against the Health Security Act, August 17, 1994
THIS TIME: "In a blatant display of pandering, Al Gore changed his position on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Al Gore is once again showing that he can't be counted on to take a principled stand."
--Bush campaign spokesman Dan Bartlett, October 30, 2000
"President Bush has backed off a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and will keep it in Tel Aviv, at least for now."
--Associated Press, June 12, 2001
ABANDON SHIP: "The ship is a fully equipped professional out-treatment room. All of you can see, it fits all of the requirements to be able to treat--if any complication would arise, to treat that according to Dutch professional standards, and these are very high."
--Dr. Rebecca Gomperts of the Women on Waves abortion boat, "Good Morning America," June 15
"We would never have been prepared or able to give concrete help to 120 women."
--Gomperts, Sunday Telegraph, June 17
SEND THIS MAN TO SPIN SCHOOL: "The congressman has come forward and said they were good friends--as he is with many interns."
--Joseph W. Cotchett, attorney for California Representative Gary Condit, who has refused to confirm or deny an alleged affair with missing intern Chandra Levy