And Justice for All
The Enron story has exploded across our economic and political landscape. Sadly, the national media and our political representatives have taken a myopic view in their analysis: who was to blame for this particular scandal, and who could be soiled by association. Once again, our country has become divided between the finger-pointers and the deniers. Our WWJD president, acting more like Apostle Peter at his worst, has denied his longtime and close association with Enron Chairman Ken Lay. For all his tough talk, Bush is remarkably consistent. He runs and hides in the face of any personal responsibility and risk: the Vietnam War draft; the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11; and, the bankruptcy filing of his largest campaign contributor. The truth is that Enron's failure is not an aberration. Enron is the product of the policies of its management and its political access. It is time to ask what needs to change. It is time to make those changes.
The American capitalist system emphasizes economic freedom. That system, in combination with political democracy, has made the United States into the economic and political leader of the world. Most Americans have great faith and confidence in this system. The Enron disclosures have shaken that faith and confidence. An underlying myth of this system is that equality, or equal opportunity, is central to its foundation. In reality, economic and political decision-making in our country are not democratic. We have a republican form of government in which our representatives are entrusted to act in the best interest of the citizens they represent. They are also entrusted with protecting the national interest against the excesses of free-market capitalism. Our president, who dresses like a cowboy but can't ride a horse, does not know how to pull in the reins on a free-market system that is out of control—and he doesn't want to learn.
Part of our social and political evolution is a recognition that economic freedom must be limited by fundamental human rights and our national interest. The wealth of our nation, and the personal fortunes of individuals, have all too often been built on the exploitation of working Americans. Exploitation is not confined to history books. It is as real today as it was in the days of slavery and child labor. It just manifests itself in other forms. Advances in technology and the nature of work have diminished the protective role of collective bargaining, requiring government to fill the void in protecting its citizens from exploitation. Real political leadership should be committed to using government to modify the excesses of free-market capitalism when it harms vulnerable members of our society. The Bush administration has abdicated this role.
Bush's presidential campaign was an acknowledgement that the Republican Party knew caveat emptor and laissez faire would no longer cut it with American voters. Now we know that the compassionate talk was just marketing. After the election, Republicans did not practice what they preached during the campaign. There is no compassion in this administration or in its policies. Our president will give his life for tax cuts, not people.
The Bush administration's policies are as bankrupt as Enron. Bush exhibits no more compassion for average Americans than Ken Lay showed for Enron workers and shareholders. Enron should be the lesson to all of us. A policy that allows huge corporations to buy $250 million in tax breaks in return for $6 million in campaign contributions is diseased and a cancer that must be removed. It is unacceptable for the administration to promote a privatized retirement system that allows hard working Americans to lose their retirement savings to market whims, never mind an illegal shell game. It is wrong for a president that represents all Americans to deregulate the energy industry, destroying the checks and balances developed over decades, in order to enrich his corporate benefactors. Did any president before Bush ever let the interests of one industry so dominate both domestic and foreign policy? Has any previous administration in our free and open society ever attempted to carry out public policy in a more secretive manner than the Bush administration?
Through all the flag waving this administration has forgotten that the Pledge of Allegiance calls for not just "freedom" but "justice for all." Through our government, the people of the United States have provided the resources to educate our young, provide insurance programs for our workers, ensure the security of our parents in old age, all while protecting our fragile environment for future generations. Our free-market system drives the U.S. economy, but it does so on the backs of American workers. Public policy should have as its goal the creation of a country where all Americans share in the riches of our nation.
It is time to stop pointing fingers. It is time to stop denying. Lead or get out of the way.
[Click here for the latest news from the web on Enron. —The Editors]
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