The Two Faces of Clinton

Fond Farewell

No number of fawning stories about what a great guy Clinton has turned out to be can disguise the truly cynical nature of his presidency. One example, which came to light last week, tells it all: In 1993, in his first official act as president, Clinton issued an executive order barring lobbying for five years by his top aides of any agency in which they had served. The order was meant as a dramatic symbol to demonstrate the high ethical tone Clinton was setting for his administration.

Between Christmas Day and New Year’s 2001, Clinton revoked the order, which also barred senior aides from ever lobbying on behalf of a foreign government. “The main policies underlying the executive order no longer apply when there is a change of parties at the White House,” said Beth Nolan, White House counsel, in explaining the revocation. “Because special access is no longer a concern, the special measures contained in the executive order are no longer necessary.” Whatever that means.

Meredith McGehee of Common Cause saw it differently: “Now he’s repealed it just in time for all these guys to cash in.”

Backstabbing the Poor

Death and Taxes

Repeal of the estate tax was passed by both houses of Congress last year and vetoed by Clinton. This time around, repeal will be welcomed by Bush, who has promised to get rid of the tax. In its current form, the tax affects less than 2 percent of estates (i.e., those worth more than $675,000). Over 90 percent of the tax has been collected from individuals who, when they died, had annual incomes of nearly $200,000. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, half of the estate tax was paid by the wealthiest one out of every 1000 people who died. It’s a tax on the very, very rich — people like the Bush clan.

Repeal of the estate tax carries with it little-noticed ramifications for charities. The tax has long been thought to provide an incentive to the rich to donate. Its repeal would mean a loss of $1 billion a year in charitable gifts, according to one study by the Treasury Department. Other studies put the loss at $2 billion. Why the new president wants to crimp charity when his administration clearly plans to place greater emphasis on charitable giving is hard to figure. Bush promises to set up an office in the White House for so-called “faith-based action” to encourage churches to more actively engage in taking over social-welfare projects, drug treatment, day care, etc.

In 1999 Americans donated over $190 billion to charity, an increase of 41 percent since 1995. Households and individuals accounted for 85 percent of the giving. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of those with incomes over $100,000 gave money. But what is surprising is how much of the money was given by people who didn’t have much: elderly single women and African Americans. Amazingly, half of the households with incomes below $10,000 made charitable contributions.

Charitable funds go to a variety of recipients, including foundations, schools and universities, human services, and environmental groups. But the biggest chunk, some $77 billion, goes to churches. With repeal of the estate tax, all this charitable giving, including donations to the churches, will decline because the incentive for the rich to pay will be gone. So who will make up the difference? If the rich give less, it will have to come from the middle and lower-middle classes. In short, the cost of the new social-welfare system is most likely to be borne by those who will need its services. In the end, one can only hope that the poor won’t have to finance the poor. But it should be remembered that the model for social welfare espoused by many conservatives is Victorian England. The world of Charles Dickens is their goal.

Bubba to Bush — Watt’s New?


During the Clinton administration, stewardship of the environment meant moving away from government ownership and dexterous management of the public domain to a mixed private-public system relying on such things as user fees. It must be remembered that, despite last week’s hype of Clinton’s order to save the forests, he backed different plans to increase the cutting of timber in native woodlands and permitted, for the first time, the sale of Alaskan North Slope oil to Asia.

Clinton made a feeble attempt to reform the old mining act that permits companies to excavate for gold on public lands for as little as $5 an acre. He took politically opportunistic steps to win environmental votes, such as one just before the 1996 election to create a national monument to protect the southern Utah moonscape. Of course, he didn’t say that making a site a national monument necessarily stops industry from drilling for oil or mining coal under it. His administration never could screw up the nerve to release a report on the dangers of dioxins. So the idea that Clinton and Gore were big-time environmentalists is not true. Thus, it’s not so much that Bush will change anything. As the two key appointments of Gale Norton to Interior and Christine Todd Whitman to EPA make clear, he’ll speed up the process that is already under way.

Norton, James Watt’s protégé and the first woman ever to take over at Interior, was a Libertarian before she became a Republican for the sake of practical politics. She was a member of a large Denver law firm that has strong Democratic ties. Her first job will be to negotiate the opening of the Alaska wildlife refuge to big oil. There’s not much oil in the refuge, but it’s a symbol of Bush’s can-do approach and a hint of the rapacious development that is about to hit the far north — a reservoir for much of what’s left of the world’s oil. She believes “very much that less regulation is better, and that the best control is at the lowest level of government possible,” according to a former aide, who added, “I don’t think she’s going to push around those who are trying to come up with their own solutions.” As state attorney general, Norton advocated Colorado’s “self-audit” law, which permits companies to conduct voluntary assays to determine whether they are complying with environmental requirements. This astonishing law gives business immunity from litigation and fines if they report and correct violations. Norton says she’s proud of her record defending the environment.”I will not give anybody everything that they want,” she told The Denver Post. “I will try to be fair and balanced.”

Whitman is a twofer. As a pro-choice appointee, she will give conservatives something to rail against and stand as proof that Bush is evenhanded, what he calls “inclusive.” Of course, her position as head of the Environmental Protection Agency keeps her very far removed from any involvement with abortion. Still, she will be the poster girl for the Bush administration.

A fiscal conservative, Whitman is credited with making progress in cleaning up New Jersey’s water and fighting urban sprawl to create open spaces. She’s worked to upgrade sewage-treatment plants and been successful in cleaning up the state’s beaches. But when push comes to shove, she lines up with industry, as she did in the early days of her first term as governor when, in the interest of jump-starting the economy, she slashed the state environmental agency’s budget and cut staff. Instead of levying fines against polluting corporations, she turned to working with them to set obtainable goals.

Bush comes to Washington with a horrid environmental record in Texas. He probably will move the federal environmental agencies back toward the days when Public Health Service officials dealt with air and water pollution by having lunch with executives from the polluting companies.

Democracy for Sale

Money Talks

Rent-a-professors on TV talk shows gush about the wonders of democracy when in fact the real thing slips daily from our grasp. As everyone knows by now, only millionaires can afford to campaign for Congress. Congressional campaigns cost more than ever: $7.3 million for the Senate; $920,000 for the House. Members of this new Congress won election in campaigns that were financed by a tiny fraction of the total population. “Majority rule takes on a whole new meaning when the majority of campaign cash comes from one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans,” notes Julia Hutchins of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Based on numbers from the Federal Election Commission, approximately one of 1000 Americans contributed more than $200 to a winning candidate in the 2000 election, according to the Washington Times, while maximum individual contributions of $1000 accounted for 60 percent of the money raised by winning candidates.

Wife Power

An ill-informed wife and mother is of no use to our political movement and to the Volk. Just as her German forerunners once did, she must now fulfill her duty and offer her services to her people.


Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Theresa Crapanzano