CHICAGO. — Chicago -- Expo '92 in Seville is a ''universal exposition,'' the highest grade of world's fair, the kind that has in the past marked historical epochs. We turned down the chance to host this Expo, a century after the famous Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The Reagan administration went about planning for the Seville Expo as it went about the preparations in this country for the quincentennial of Columbus' voyage. Republican fund-raisers were put in charge of both operations, people who had donated to the Reagan election effort. Both men were typical of that class, in that they had shady or dubious connections. The age of American greed filled Washington with this sort.
John Goudie, put in charge of the quincentennial in America, was forced to resign after six years of mismanagement in that post, while the IRS and various courts went after him on charges of contempt, misappropriation of escrow funds and failure to pay his own taxes. One of Mr. Goudie's contributions to the preparations in Spain was an invitation to Tongsun Park, the man who corrupted Congress, as an official guest.
Frederick Bush (no relation to George), put in charge of the Seville exhibit, was so involved in the HUD scandal that he could not be confirmed as ambassador to Luxembourg. Instead he went to work on the Seville project, using the U.S. Information Agency rather than the Commerce Department.
Contrast these choices with the Japanese commissioner for Seville, the respected Sony chairman, Akio Morita. He is putting up a $50 million wooden structure (the largest in the world) that will showcase Japan's new products.
What is being shown at the American exhibit? Two things mainly, a copy of the Bill of Rights and GM automobiles -- the company that just announced it was closing 20 plants and dismissing thousands of employees.
And where will these things be shown? In two geodesic domes -- the design that was new when Americans introduced it at the Montreal Expo in 1967, but has been endlessly copied since.
John Judis, in a devastating report from Seville for the current New Republic, quotes Commissioner Bush on the reason no American companies want to exhibit in this obsolete and cheap structure. Few ''wanted to be pegged as an American company,'' since ''the product they sell will not be seen as high quality if they are seen as American-made.'' This from the man who is supposed to be promoting our products.
The American exhibit creates no American jobs, since our
contracting people would not take on such an operation. Even the catering will be done by a Canadian firm.
So, while President Bush was in Japan attacking trade policy as the cause of America's decline, we are erecting a humiliating exhibit in Seville that gives us the real reasons for our decline.
The public sector has been drained in the giveaways to private-sector greed. Our quality and pride in work has evaporated. And the Reagan legacy is one of massive American debt and sleaziness. Some show.
Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.