Joe Conason's Journal

Why our frat-boy, Yale-legacy president opposes college for welfare moms. Plus: Hillary conspiracies get lamer by the day.

By Salon Staff
Published July 31, 2002 5:31PM (EDT)

Frat, dumb and happy
Occasionally a lingering streak of the president's privileged meanness peeks through his frat-boy charm. He seems to believe that higher education is a scam to let welfare mothers avoid honest toil. What makes the former Deke cheerleader so morally certain that nobody receiving welfare benefits deserves a chance to go to college? The amendment to the welfare reauthorization that he so strongly dislikes would permit only 10 percent of welfare recipients in any state to meet the work requirement by attending college. That provision wasn't written by some wild-eyed radical; its author is Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican from Maine.

The daughter of Greek immigrants, orphaned before she turned 10, Snowe went to a Greek Orthodox day school in Augusta, graduated from public high school and earned a political science degree at the University of Maine. In other words, she wasn't ushered through Phillips Andover and Yale as a "legacy." (One of the most candid passages in Bush's campaign autobiography is when the dean at Andover -- presumably aware of young George's academic record -- "tactfully" advises him to apply to other universities.) When she imagines a young woman struggling to escape poverty, she may feel a touch of genuine compassion, as opposed to the ersatz White House variety. Newsday columnist Paul Vitello wonders whether Bush equates college with loafing because he spent so much time partying and playing in New Haven. His pompous lecturing hardly becomes a man whose fraternity brothers still think of him as Bluto, the toga-clad lunkhead played by the late John Belushi in "Animal House."

Bush-El of Cash
The Bush boys have never liked welfare, unless it was corporate welfare and they (or their friends) were getting some. Now the Miami Herald reports that brother Jeb may have to testify in a court case involving allegations of bribery by a Florida water-pump company. On Monday, the Florida governor was added to the witness list in the case. The company's owner is David Eller, a former Bush business partner and faithful campaign contributor. Accused of paying off Nigerian officials who approved contracts to buy his company's equipment, Eller received loan financing from the federal Export-Import Bank while Poppy was president in 1992. Two years later, Eller paid nearly $650,000 for Jeb's interest in a different company known as Bush-El Trading.

According to the Herald, "Bush has never given a full accounting of the work he did for Bush-El Trading Corp., which did business in Nigeria and a host of other foreign countries while his father was president." Despite this potentially embarrassing situation, Bush remains close to Eller, who hosted a fundraiser for the Florida governor on June 17.
[5:30 p.m. PDT, July 31, 2002]

Camera-ready compassion
"Compassionate" conservatives care deeply about coal miners, but only when the cameras are running. When nobody is looking they go back to business as usual, which in the Bush White House means cutting funds for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (those meddling bureaucrats who saved the Somerset Nine) and gutting regulation by putting industry stooges in charge of enforcement. The United Mine Workers union is speaking out about this travesty, though not loudly or forcefully enough. Like most unions, the UMW tends to be slow to exploit a media opportunity, and in this case the union may be compromised by its relationship with an administration that promotes coal use despite global warming. Utterly silent on mine safety, of course, are the pundits who admired the humble, tough folk of Somerset. The same can be said of Gov. Mark Schweiker, who preened for the media as a Rudy-style leader taking charge of the rescue operation. His posturing was less useful than a few words in defense of MSHA from a Republican governor would be. One politician was worrying about the safety of miners without waiting for coverage by CNN and People magazine. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., held hearings on the administration's attempt to undermine MSHA on July 11, two weeks before the Quecreek accident. (Naturally Wellstone, a diligent advocate of public health and safety, remains the most prominent target of the Green Party this fall.)

Trading on Hillary
Hillary Clinton's successful appearance at the DLC meeting in Manhattan on Monday (which got grudging nods even from journalists who despise her) has riled up her enemies on the far right. They should be thrilled: Whenever her profile rises, separating Republican rubes from their direct-mail contributions becomes exponentially easier. The New York senator didn't give these hucksters much to work with this time, alas. Chris Ruddy's Newsmax site, whose proprietors pray every day that she will someday run for her husband's old job, now insinuates that she made a nasty, underhanded reference to George W.'s former drinking problems. When I taped an MSNBC segment about her this morning with Human Events editor Terry Jeffrey, even he didn't pretend to believe that nonsense. He wanted to talk about the old commodities trading "scandal" instead. I had trouble understanding what that has to do with this century's politics, and he had trouble articulating the basic facts of the case. If they want to keep using Hillary to raise funds, the right needs some new material.

Corrected correction
A gentleman from the National Republican Congressional Committee writes to say that my correction about the Barbours was wrong again. He informs me that Henry Barbour is a nephew of Haley B., not his cousin.

What I really need is a family tree, complete with everybody's connection to WorldCom.
[10:30 a.m. PDT, July 31, 2002]

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