WASHINGTON — If you want a date to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush Era in American life, you may as well make it this one: May 25, 2006. The Enron jury in Houston didn’t just put the wood to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The jurors took a chain saw to the moral claims of the Texas-based corporate culture that had helped fuel the rise to power of President George W. Bush.
First, caveats. There’s no evidence that the president or anyone in his entourage knew about or benefited financially from the house of cards that Lay and Skilling built — and that a federal jury now has found to have been an edifice of fraud.
The Bush Crowd was old school in the energy bidness, and viewed Lay & Co., as hustling parvenus who had no real interest in finding and pumping oil — what real men in Texas do.
Most of what Enron concocted was assembled in the go-go Clinton years. Bush’s idea of an oil man was his old Bible Study buddy, the upright, clean-as-a-whistle Don Evans. As the Enron scam was falling apart, Lay frantically sought help from Evans — by then the Commerce Secretary -- among others (including Democrats such as former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin). He got nowhere, and had the chutzpah to be bitter about it.
Ultimately, Bush’s Justice Department pressed the case against Enron — and won.
Still, when the history books are written, the debit side of the Bush Era ledger will include a line labeled “Kenny Boy.” That’s the nickname Bush gave the guy he later claimed he barely knew.
As Texas governor from 1995 to 2000, Bush and consiglieri Karl Rove cultivated the Enronites for their vast connections and money; more than that, Bush linked arms with Lay in the belief that market forces alone should guide the production, distribution and use of energy. But the theory ran riot at Enron, giving license to corporate buccaneers who blithely screwed consumers, employees and shareholders alike. The old saying applies to Enron: you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
There are almost three years left of the Bush presidency, so it’s obviously premature to close the book, but it isn’t too early to start writing it. Here are a few of the headlines in the entries that have accumulated so far.
On the plus side
On the minus side
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