Another White House mess

April 07, 1994|By Ross K. Baker

AGAIN the Oval Office is displaying the high-handedness characteristic of President Clinton.

Tuesday, Walter S. Scheib 3rd, who prepared a "light menu," was publicly anointed White House chef.

Why wasn't the $60,000 job removed from Civil Service, and the nomination submitted first to the Senate -- more appropriately, its Agriculture Committee? Cabinet nominees are subject to confirmation. Why not the No. 1 man in the kitchen cabinet?

Serious questions about Mr. Scheib, currently the chef at the Greenbrier Resort and Health Spa at White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., lurk in dark corners.

First, is he any relative of the late Earl Scheib, who promised on TV to paint "any car, any color" for $119.50?

Second, as a chef in West Virginia, Mr. Scheib was dedicated to using local ingredients. At banquets for members of Congress, how can this Mr. Healthy avoid serving pork?

Then there is the matter of Mr. Scheib's former employment at the Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida.

It's one thing for Bill Clinton to openly root for Arkansas in the basketball finals, risking a loss of Duke voters in 1996 -- as he openly conceded on TV.

It's another to worm his way into the hearts of Floridians, who gave George Bush their electoral vote in 1992.

An official of the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y., Mr. Scheib's alma mater, described him as a "gifted, low-key, dedicated administrator more than a creative chef."

Is "Scheib" an alias? Did the Clintons hire Al Gore -- again?

As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, is morally obliged to arrange full-dress hearings, including the power to subpoena important documents such as recipes and menus, before they are shredded, or julienned.

Why -- why? -- would the Oval Office not identify the meal that landed Mr. Scheib the job?

After all, at no time in American history -- except for the administration of the portly William Howard Taft -- has it been more important to have a White House chef who can serve as a check and balance on the chief executive's eating habits.

President Clinton's ambassador to Japan, Walter Mondale, memorably asked, "Where's the beef?" The answer, of course, is: in Bonn.

How would it look to Europe, which is already worried about Bill Clinton's leadership ability, if Helmut Kohl came to dinner and was served a main course of pan-seared cottage cheese with cilantro pesto?

At a moment when Whitewater is preoccupying Washington, discretion in the selection of a chef is imperative.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, especially, needs someone who can steer clear of capers and never be a source of leeks.

Ross K. Baker is professor of political science at Rutgers University.

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