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Zoe, We Hardly Knew Ye BY JAMES MCCARTY YEAGER Washington, D.C. IN THE WEEK BEFORE the Stupor Bowl performed its annual rejuvenative role by blotting out the national intelligence, an Arkansas Cowboys team rooter named W.J. Clinton got himself, as they say in the football bidness, blindsicled. By an insurance company lawyer, yet, whose week of infamy resulted from her having committed the quintessentially Republican crime of stiffing the tax system. Not your best omen for the future of the Administration, but not fatally disgusting, either. As Jim Hightower says of the incoming Clintonic hordes, “I’ve got my fingers crossed on them, but I’ve got my eyes open, too.” The translation of that attitude I’d been using \(before I ran across the Hightower quote in an AP story “I don’t put any trust in these people, but I haven’t given up hope.” L’ affaire Zoe Baird, unfortunately for us all, ate away a bit at that hope. Here’s a corporate lawyer whose most famous connection is with Aetna Insurance, and she commits a class sin so noticeable they even have a law against it. Now, I don’t mind all the hoorah from people making less than $500,000 a year. We’re entitled to complain about someone abusing both the tax system and their domestic laborers. when I see Republicans like Senator Alan Representative Newt Gingrich-Khan \(Repubthe Attorney General must obey the law. Near as I can recall, the last three Republican Attorneys-General have all been, in their different nasty ways, totally indictment-prone, if not outright jail-bait. Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III actually deserves to be behind bars to this day for his role in steering federal contracts to his financial advisor’s firm, a behavioral sink known as Wedtech. Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, \(who came to national attention while lying about Three Mile Island’s nuclear fallout as Pennsylvania Governor in 1979 and forfeited it by coming from way ahead to lose verted as many laws as he upheld, especially in covering up the derelictions of his predecessor in the Inslaw scandal. And former Attorney General William Barr is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Iraqgate coverup, with additional odium for failing to renew the independent counsel legislation. In the face of this striking record over two James McCarty Yeager, a Houston native, edits Minority Business Report, Bethesda, Maryland. Republican administrations, it seems improbable at best to claim, as the Republicans did, that a mere insurance company lawyer with a tax problem was somehow unfit to be Attorney General. Unfit? After Meese, Thornburgh, and Barr? Maybe Socks the Cat would have been unfit. Maybe Bob Strauss would have been unfit. But not Baird. Not on those grounds, at least not from Republicans. But what drove her nomination down was public outcry, unfomented by Republicans and irreproducible by Republican propaganda methods. And there is a palpable hunger for no-business-as-usual nominees possessing higher ethical standards than are normally imputed to the powerful. Which is why it is kind of strange so many Clinton Cabinet members are lawyers. However, Clinton seems bent on having in place personnel who would not disgrace a moderate Republican administration if such a thing were ever possible, and he may even be serious about ethical standards. Baird’s lightning withdrawal allows that hope to be nurtured in the public breast. A wily middle-aged book salesman remarked the week after the election that he hoped Clinton appointed Bob Strauss to something so that; a month later, the President could publicly fire Strauss for ethics violations. Like the hanging of aristocrats from lamp-posts in the French Revolution, “in order to encourage the others,” the deliberate public disgrace of Strauss would have served to strengthen the ethical backbones of the surviving appointees. The Baird mess may have unintentionally served just that purpose. Now both the public and the new appointees are on notice that the kind of sleaze that Republicans got away with practicing for 12 years is not going to be allowed. At least, not right away. And the people are right to hold the Democrats to a higher standard of behavior. As strategist James Carville remarked Inauguration week, “The Democrats weren’t given a mandate; we were given a chance.” He bolstered that minatory observation with another: “We didn’t find the key to the [Republican] electoral lock; we just picked it.” Behaving better than the Republicans in the ethical field should not, after all, prove horribly difficult. But it is an absolute essential. So is improving policy on matters more central to the life of the republic than gays in the military, which seems carefully constructed to make little practical difference while generating much hoopla. But President Bill can lose innumerable minor points as long as he wins the major struggle to reflate the economy, the first round of which is being conducted against the Federal Reserve Board. By limiting economic stimulus package to $16 billion instead of the $50 billion dis cussed at the Little Rock Economic Summit, the Clintons apparently hope to buy off the Fed. The Clintons need to prevent the Fed from having the slightest excuse for raising interest rates, which would quash the haltingly nascent, still tottering and always dubious economic recovery. 5 ome other corporate lawyer can be found to be Attorney General, if that is what’s wanted. But nothing short of the entire Clinton Administration, plus the Democrats in Congress, and progressive people organized from precinct to statehouse, will be able to overcome the entrenched corporate and media resistance to fundamental economic change in America. In that regard, President Bill’s old friends in the corporate boardrooms have just done him a huge favor by continuing to advertise the weakness of the economy under deregulated capitalism. Just after Baird went sadly back to her old job, CBS reported that 47 Fortune 500 companies had announced layoffs in the last six months. The litany of those corporate cutbacks is, by no sort of coincidence, a list of those benefitting from the tax giveaways of the 1980s. However, news such as the loss of 50,000 jobs at Sears and the .scrapping of the Sears catalog can diminish much of the country’s attention to staffing missteps by the White House. And such news of economic contraction and lar, middle-class Americans will continue to furnish the backdrop against which the Clinton Administration will be judged. It’s almost as if we, the people, don’t care who’s working for Clinton as long as something happens. It is astonishing to see a Democratic administration being granted almost the same amount of leeway as was given to Ronald Reagan, who not only needed every inch he was given but , took a few extra. However, on the principle that the press always fights the past war, such forbearance cannot last. Already, a plethora of puffed pundits are saying and writing and broadcasting that the honeymoon is over. In an act of prescience, Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry even told the National Press Club over Christmas that his reading of the papers was that the Clinton Administration had already been judged a failure. Barry said he was happy with this development since it opened up the vast field of speculation as to a future Gore Administration, which he accurately remarked that the press found far more interesting than paying attention to what the Clinton Administration is actually doing. The country expects a lot, in substantive economic performance, from Bill Clinton. And we had better get some of it. Or Zoe Baird already half forgotten will look like a harbinger rather than a negligible oversight. FEBRUARY 12, 1993