WATCHING all the self-contradicting Enron chatter over the weekend reminded me of the quintessential Ronald Reagan anecdote. You remember--the one about the optimistic kid, shoveling manure with a smile on his face. After all, the kid reasoned, "there's got to be a pony in here somewhere."
That's pretty much the attitude of Henry Waxman, Joe Lieberman, and the other Democrats most enamored of the Enron scandal. Either Enron had undue influence over a corporatist Bush administration selling its energy policy to the highest bidder (Waxman's pony). Or Enron had too little influence over a Dickensian Bush administration that failed in its duty to bail out the company and its "average shareholders who lost their life savings" (Lieberman's pony). Either way, there's an animal here for the Democrats to ride.
The cynicism of this attack is breathtaking, and is almost certain to derail the "scandal" before it ever gets going. Mike Allen quotes a "key Democratic strategist" in this morning's Washington Post saying the following: "Democrats are very excited about this because this gives us a hook to bring this guy [George W. Bush] some accountability, plus there's no way it's not going to be a distraction for them."
Think about that last line for a moment, and you can see that there's huge potential for this to blow up in the Democrats' face, Wile E. Coyote style.
They can't really be salivating at the prospect of distracting the president in the middle of the war on terrorism, can they? Die-hard Clintonites are still arguing that Republicans are to blame for everything bad that happened in the last 8 years because the various investigations of Clinton "distracted" him. But even the Clintonites don't argue that the distraction was the goal of the investigations. Only that it was an effect of them. Here's a "key Democratic strategist" arguing that one of the purposes of pursuing Enron is to distract the Bush administration.
So there may be a pony in the Enron scandal, but it strikes me as one that's about to throw its Democratic riders, and then give them a kick between the eyes.
Richard Starr is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.
P.S. If you want to read just one piece summarizing the Enron scandal, read Jim Cramer's "Stop Thieves" column in last week's New York magazine. The Washington press corps is tone deaf about matters of finance, when it's not just ignorant. It's the mirror image of the New York press, which knows finance but never quite "gets" Washington. Cramer "gets" Enron.