What a downer for the upper crust

February 12, 2002|By Milton Bates

I want to see Enron survive ... preserving value for our creditors and hard-working employees. Unfortunately, with the multiple ... investigations that currently require much of my time, it is increasingly difficult to concentrate fully on what is most important to Enron's stakeholders.

- Kenneth Lay

AND SO falls a mighty oak in America's corporate forest. These poignant words, explaining his resignation as chief executive of the company he so lovingly shepherded from obscurity to the nation's seventh-largest, illuminate the speaker and inspire the reader. No bitterness here, however justified.

Mr. Lay, benefactor of two presidents, confidant of countless politicians and statesmen, still cares deeply for his inferiors in the business he created. Yes, he had help: innovative attorneys, imaginative accountants, wholesome security analysts. But Mr. Lay supplied the dream. The vision thing, as a former high-placed, cherished friend might have said.

Let's not mince words here: The class war has begun. How heartbreaking that an early casualty is Enron's blameless ex-chief.

The most potent weapon in the arsenal of those who foment this war is the craven, liberal press. Slanted references appear in "news" reports. Difficulties faced by supposed victims of the firm's change of fortune, tearjerkers about newly unemployed whiners, the alleged loss of counted-upon retirement nest eggs, and more.

What, tell me, happened to the virtue of unquestioned loyalty to one's superior? Did not Enron provide gainful employment to these now-unmasked malcontents? Yet no mention of this appears in the lapdog media. Other than reasoned comment on talk radio, silence reigns. Sickening, yes; surprising, no.

Class war volunteers come in assorted ages and causes. Many a duped senior has enlisted. Though favored with 10 percent Wendy's discounts, 27-cent McDonald's coffees and more, they grouse about essential increases in the price of prescription drugs.

What happened to gratitude? Many arbitrarily choose food over medicine, and so need hospitalization. The resultant increases in medical costs are forced upon those more young and healthy. Greatest generation, indeed.

Environmentalists, too, are well represented in these ragtag troops. They live to complain, it seems. Arsenic levels? Too high. Manufacturers and agribusinesses? Stream polluters. Lead paint in urban homes? Some sort of health problem. Their favorite claim? Greenhouse gases produce global warming. What's next? Banning SUVs?

Then there are those who carp that the president's meticulously crafted tax cut provides the richest 1 percent with 38 percent of the total savings. Wrong, and Arthur Andersen auditors will so certify. The top earners will receive only 36.8 percent of the total reduction. But the devious media suppresses this revelation, while prattling on about freedom of the press.

The economic stimulus bill providing a $254 million retroactive tax refund to Enron has been derailed by congressional populists who grumble that the company has paid zero income taxes four of the past five years. Does not our tax code encourage such creativity? Hats off to Texas congressmen Tom DeLay and Dick Armey for efforts to keep this loophole open.

Students of history know that class wars are not new in America. But once there were heroes who led the army of the enlightened. Early in the Cold War, Wisconsin's junior senator donned the flag and routed Reds from under beds in Hollywood, the military and elsewhere. Joseph McCarthy's detractors tried to sully his lofty reputation by hinting of alleged fondness for the grape. For restorative purposes, yes, since his patriotic work was tiring.

Later, under Richard Nixon, Gordon Liddy linked arms with Spiro Agnew, provably the best vice president money could buy, to target the nation's domestic enemies.

Who will play such roles today? Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself from Enron harassment, as has Sen. Phil Gramm. Jesse Helms soon retires, and Strom Thurmond is, reputedly, no longer young. Alas, the one most able to disperse the rabble, to keep the rug under rugged individualism, is unavailable.

Where are you, J. Edgar Hoover, now that we need you, however attired?

Milton Bates is a retired businessman who lives in Baltimore.

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