Is this the America we thought we'd see in the new cabinet?


January 15, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

We'll get to Ron Brown in a minute. Brown, as you may know, is Bill Clinton's nominee to be secretary of commerce. Brown's first post-nomination decision was to encourage the great companies of America and the great companies of Japan to come together -- to throw a party for him. That's right, a big, pre-inaugural bash.

But we'll get back to him because first we have to discuss Zoe Baird, who is Clinton's nominee for attorney general. Turns out Baird employed until very recently a couple from South America who were illegal aliens. One was a nanny, the other a part-time driver.

Baird said she didn't think she was doing anything wrong. What did she think -- they were exchange students? Maybe she just wanted to brush up on her conversational Spanish. How do you say, "It's a raid!!!!"?

Is something weird going on here?

Remember that big election we had back in November? Got rid of the not-gonna-do-it guy. Elected Elvis instead. Change was the byword. We had to have courage to change. To accept new ideas. Fresh ideas. Newly fresh. Freshly new.

Gosh, somehow when I see Brown and Baird, I don't think freshness. I think day-old brioche.

I mean, what do they sound like to you? Like the Republicans? Yeah, like the Republicans. Like Ronald Reagan was the next president.

You see, here's the biggest little secret on the no-more-politics-as-usual front: It's starting to look like the same old politics as usual.

Is this a changing of the guard or a changing of the name plates? Here's a stat for you. Of the 18 appointees, 13 are lawyers. Yeah, that's new. That's fresh.

Try these out on the let's-reform-government meter:

* The attorney general nominee apparently broke the law by employing illegal aliens. Why do people hire illegal aliens? Not for their references. They work cheap (Baird was making only $500,000 in her previous job), and they don't complain. If they do, you call the immigration people, who will now, of course, work under Baird. Maybe, to save money, she can get some illegal aliens to guard the borders.

Where did Clinton find his crusading, reformist attorney general? You guessed it. She was working for an insurance company. Before then, she was a lawyer for General Electric. Seriously. By the way, Clinton also found his secretary of energy nominee working at a power company. Reformist? Hmmm. Let's just say I don't foresee an endorsement from Greenpeace.

* Back to Ron Brown, the soon-to-be commerce secretary. He's the big-time lobbyist who has been questioned about possible conflicts of interest. And still he decides it's no conflict for the "Friends of Ron Brown" to throw him a party. These friends include Anheuser-Busch, Pepsico, J.C. Penney, Sony Music Entertainment, NYNEX and others.

Does Brown really think they are his friends? Does he also think the best things in life are free? Anyway, he canceled the ball under pressure. All I can say is, Ron Brown, this Bud's for you.

* Then there's Lloyd Bentsen, your next treasury secretary, a person who can teach Brown a trick or two. Known as Loophole Lloyd for giving his friends in the oil industry every break he could while in the Senate, he's a real candidate for change.

Bentsen is famous for two things. One is the

you're-no-Jack-Kennedy line, and the other is the breakfast club he once tried to create. What he did was send letters to lobbyists inviting them to send him $10,000 for which they could have breakfast with him once a month.

* Clinton wants Warren Christopher at State. According to documents from the LBJ Library, Christopher, as deputy Attorney General in the late '60s, was given intelligence from the U.S. Army on the activities of those who followed Martin Luther King Jr., and also of antiwar protesters. Maybe that's where he first saw Bill Clinton. Christopher says now he was unaware of any such activity at the time. It's the same thing Henry Kissinger said.

Maybe you find it comforting that Clinton, the man of change, hasn't turned out to be a revolutionary. Hey, he hasn't even been sworn in yet. We don't know what he's going to be. But I have to admit I've been worried we were in trouble ever since Clinton said he would appoint a cabinet that looks like America, and yet not one appointee has ever been seen wearing an X cap.

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