The Business of Government

HAVING GLIDED THROUGH his entire re-election campaign without holding a single press conference--which hardly produced a squeak of protest from the tame Washington press corps--Bill Clinton last week held the first of what are promised to be regularly scheduled Q&As with the capital's scribes. By slating these get-togethers for Friday, the White House has deftly assured a minimal audience for any bad news or tough questions; most Americans are too exhausted from their work weeks by Friday evenings to pay much attention to TV news, and Saturday's newspapers are the least-read of the week.

The success of this old PR trick was illustrated by the media's offerings from last Friday's press conference. Footage of new Commerce Secretary William Daley's spectacular fainting spell dominated the little screen, and the truncated next-day print stories gave little inkling of the political significance in the appointments unveiled by the president. The scandal-plagued Commerce Department will now be headed by a scion of Chicago's infamously corrupt Daley machine. Bill's brother Richie, Chicago's current mayor, is a worthy successor to the siblings' legendary father: Only months ago, an independent survey revealed that 10 percent of the Windy City's voters are registered more than once! No wonder that in 1992, Clinton picked Bill Daley to run his Illinois campaign.

Known in his hometown as "the smart Daley," Bill--a lawyer/lobbyist for the cream of his city's business interests--was tapped by Clinton to head the campaign to pass NAFTA, which involved raising a fortune from the multinationals. This, and his role as overseer of his brother's election fund-raising, tell us that it will be politics as usual at Commerce. John Huang may be gone, but Melinda Yee and the rest of the fund-raising crew imported from the DNC and the K Street nest of lobbyists by Ron "Shake 'Em Down" Brown were left in place by his successor Mickey Kantor (Clinton's '92 campaign chairman), so Clinton's designated dauphin, Al Gore, will be able to profit handsomely from a Commerce Department operated in the tradition of Nixon's Maurice Stans.

The other appointments announced last week presage a second-term administration that looks even more like Corporate America than the first did. The new director of the Office of Management and Budget, Franklin Raines, is an investment banker, just like White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. Bowles's deputy will be Sylvia Mathews, who is now chief of staff to Goldman Sachs's Robert Rubin at Treasury. Gene Sperling, who will run the National Economic Council, was Rubin's deputy when he headed the NEC, and Rubin's current deputy at Treasury, Lawrence Summers--architect of the bailout of Mexico's banks--will have new powers as a "principal" on the Council. Now that George Step-on-all-of-us--who, with the departed Harold Ickes, operated as the coopt-the-liberals con team in support of Clinton's conservative policies--will be plying his spin-doctoring as a special correspondent for ABC, he'll be replaced as counselor for domestic policy by Rahm Emanuel, the arrogant martinet who ran the day-to-day fund-raising effort in the '92 campaign, for which he was recruited from... the Daley machine~! Even Bill Richardson, the new United Nations ambassador who is half-Mexican on his mother's side, is no up-by-his-bootstraps success story, but a banker's son.

With Wall Street in control of the Clinton administration, it is clear that the bipartisan duopoly is hurtling America toward an ever-greater degree of corporatism, as Sam Smith points out in the latest issue of his stimulating newsletter, The Progressive Review. "Corporatism," as Smith reminds us, "is an extreme form of capitalism in which the largest businesses direct the policy of a nation (or, increasingly, of nations). Corporatism is not free enterprise; it is not commercialism; it is not entrepreneurial. It is manipulative, corrupting, exploitative, and coercive. It is anti-democratic, anti-competitive, anti-community, and anti-ecological. Its roots are in fascist Italy, its contemporary expression is Singapore."

Over a century ago, a bearded old man wrote from his desk in the British library that "government is the executive committee of the ruling class." Looking at Clinton's America, it's hard to say he was wrong.

The Progressive Review costs $18 a year from 1739 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20009-8922.

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