Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, February 23, 2003
How It's Done

Readers of Counterspin found out a few days ago about yet another Bush family dubious deal: Florida recently awarded a $7.5 milllion contract without competitive bidding to a company called Infinity Software, whose owner Thomas Lynch, is a substantial contributor to Jeb Bush and the Florida Republican Party. As a bonus, Infinity Software has provided a job to Jeb's junkie daughter Noelle, and kept the job offer open while she went through drug rehab. Now no doubt Noelle is highly qualified for her new duties - perhaps she'll be working in security, ingesting any suspicious white powders found around the office, a field in which she is a proven expert. But seeing as this isn't the first time that Florida has bent its rules to award a multi-million dollar contract to businesses owned by Republican contributors who have Bush family connections, it does look a tad suspicious.

Except it doesn't to most people because, unless you're part of the tiny minority who read liberal blogs, you don't know a thing about it. Not a word so far in the Times, the Post, or any other major national media I've been able to locate, and that isn't going to change much. Just today, the post ran a long, boring article about Jeb Bush that didn't include a single word about his friends' tendencies to accumulate government contracts, questions of whether his daughter was treated comparably with other Florida drug offenders, Jeb's ties to Enron that cost Florida pension funds over $300 mn, or the S & L loan that Jeb Bush and his partner defaulted on - although they were allowed to keep the building they used the loan to buy. All this, and more, have disappeared from the major media - if they were ever covered at all.
Josh Marshall has recently been covering another story extensively, how the Republicans paid to flood calls into a New Hampshire Democratic campaign center on election day, effectively shutting down much of its operation for a few hours, but the last time I checked, the story had rated only a few sentences in the Times and Post.

Remember Karl Rove's Intel stock? He took part in a decision which benefitted the company while owning the stock. It was in the papers for a week or so, then disappeared.

Compare this to a Clinton era 'scandal' such as 'Travelgate'. This was possibly the most absurd alleged scandal in US history: what happened, in essence, was that a government employee was fired after being caught illegally borrowing money (subsequently repaid) from government funds under his control. This trivial incident was expanded into years of investigations, headlines, and reports, during which the embezzler became transposed into a martyr (by a special act of Congress, his legal representation was paid for by taxpayers) and firing an employee for documented financial misconduct was treated as corrupt at best, if not criminal.

All through the Clinton years, one fake scandal after another was widely and uncritically reported. Major news organizations went so far as to doctor tapes of Webster Hubbell to make him appear to confirm allegations against Hillary Clinton he was in fact denying. Special Prosecutors were appointed, and when, like original Whitewater prosecutor Robert Fiske, they chose to be guided by the law instead of partisanship, they were dismissed. House and Senate committees conducted further investigations by the dozen. Talk radio plugged every new pseudo-scandal, while continuing to hype old ones, even after they had been discredited. The average person could hardly be expected to keep up with the endless string of charges, and to the degree that they saw an overall pattern, it was that the Clinton administration was constantly facing ethical charges. The same media organizations that had carried and pushed the scandal stories could be counted on never to mention the real pattern: scores of allegations were made and investigated at great length - Starr's famed $70 mn was only a fraction of the total budget spent investigating the Clinton administration - and not a single instance of any misuse of public authority was ever confirmed. The only people who were shown to have actually engaged in financial crimes - Hubbell and the McDougalls - weren't stealing for the Clintons. In fact, they stole from them.

By comparison, the current administration is never investigated. They control the FBI and both houses of Congress, and the Attorney General is a politician rather than a career prosecutor. The GAO has always been non-partisan, but Republicans forced it to drop an investigation of the Cheney energy policy That played as a one day story in the press, although it meant the de facto disarming of the most prestigious and expert organization investigating Executive Branch conduct and the elimination of a major check against Executive excesses. The decision early in the administration to interpret the law on public access to presidential papers so as to effectively annul it removed a less important check.

External checks on the administration are as weak as internal. Media outlets, owned by large corporations that are pressing their own interests in Washington, know they will be punished in Congress and Executive agencies if they rock the boat. Congressional Republicans recently directly linked an investigation of the mutual fund industry to a demand that the industry hire Republicans. Already with as much unchecked power as any modern administration, Bush and Ashcroft are seeking to use the terrorism threat to obtain even more sweeping powers. Since Lord Acton was indeed right, an administration that already has extensive cronyism and nepotism may soon become the most corrupt in history.

In politics perception is everything; reality, if not widely known, is almost totally irrelevant. By massively publicizing imaginary Clinton corruption while ignoring the real thing among the Bushes, a false idea of the relative integrity of the two administrations has been successfully created.