Graft Ain't What It Used
To Be in Washington
If Enron couldn't get favors, can anybody?
By CHUCK McFADDEN
Is your faith in the system shaken, or what? Mine certainly is.
Here's the Enron Corporation doling out thousands--no, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. It seems every politician got a little something from the Enron grandees, and some got more. A lot more. The Enron people were nothing if not generous. Like drunken sailors, they were.
But when the company got into trouble and picked up the phone to get a little help from its friends, all they got was "Enron who?" Turns out the Bush people didn't lift a finger to help Enron once the stock options hit the fan.
That's confounding to Washington political reporters who were delightedly poised on the cusp of what they thought was going to be a major political scandal. "Whee!" they thought. "Lots of quid pro quo here. Pulitzer, here I come!"
But so far, zip.
So now .now what? You make campaign contributions, but get yourself ignored when you get into trouble? Is this the bitter lesson of Enron? Is this what decades of smoke-filled rooms have come to? You can't rent politicians any more?
You talk about Enron toppling with the loss of thousands of jobs, but things could get really serious. A whole subsidiary of the media industry could go under.
Deprived of a clear-cut political scandal, what about political/investigative reporters? What's to become of the saucer-eyed young blonde people who staff the "Special Scandal Eyewitness Action Team Report at 11"? Are they supposed to stand there in front of an office building and say, "Megapoop Industries, which contributed $500,000 to Sen. Lurchgag during his last campaign, got zip from him in favors during the past year"?
Where's the political drama? Where's the sharp intake of breath? Where's the sanctimony? It'll all be with the business reporters, my God.
Of course, none of those wide-eyed stories ever really made any lasting difference. Politicians accepted money, did what was expected, reporters occasionally reported it, life went on.
The point is, lots of people had employment being indignant political/investigative reporters.
There is a ray of hope. Possibilities remain for sex scandals. In fact, some connoisseurs argue that a good, solid, illicit connection between a politician and an attractive woman not his wife is worth a dozen campaign contribution scoops, where you have to at least cursorily track the money path and so on. But look--we're stuck with a teetotaler of a president who by all accounts is nuts about the First Lady. Discouraging.
In the last analysis, we may be in the cold grip of purity. If politicians start failing to act on behalf of their campaign contributors when the companies get in trouble, can monogamy be far behind?
The damn economy is already in the dumpster. Add to that the potential decline in newspaper employment, TV Action News Team layoffs, private detectives drawing unemployment, a drop in motel revenues and dry cleaners going out of business--why, you have trouble.
Trouble, my friends, trouble.
If they're serious about doing something to revive the economy, our elected officials had better start behaving as expected.
© 2002 by Charles M. McFadden. The Chuck McFadden caricature is © 2001 by Jim Hummel. The other illustrations are from IMSI's Master Clips Collections, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA.
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