Who gets blamed for Enron?

Why Enron is George Bush's scandal, not Bill Clinton's.

Andrew Leonard
May 26, 2006 10:30PM (UTC)

Yesterday's gleeful dancing on the grave of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling elicited an unusually large number of anonymous posts from readers eager to pin the blame for Enron on the Clinton administration --"all that bad stuff happened on his watch, so it's his fault!"

How the World Works welcomes readers of all political stripes, though we prefer it if they attach real names, or at least persistent identities, to their arguments. We generally aren't predisposed to take an argument seriously if it's signed "No Name Given."


Then again, the argument that Enron was Clinton's scandal and not Bush's is so absurd that one can understand why no one would put an actual name behind it. Let's review some history, shall we?

Ken Lay was George Bush's number one financial backer. During the 2000 election campaign, Bush frequently flew on Enron corporate jets. Bush's first cabinet included a former Enron executive, Thomas White, as Army Secretary, and two former Enron advisers, Lawrence Lindsey (Bush's first chief economic adviser) and Robert Zoellick (Bush's first United States Trade Representative).

Vice President Dick Cheney met numerous times with Ken Lay to discuss energy policy. Lay was instrumental in the hiring of his hand-picked Texas buddy Pat Wood as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Lay's influence likely led to the Bush administration's do-nothing stance on the California electricity crisis. Do we even need to mention Wendy Gramm, the wife of Texas Senator Phil Gramm (R) and chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission? Just five weeks after a ruling in which she exempted Enron from certain forms of federal regulation that could have cost the company a great deal of money, she quit and joined Enron's board.


It's as simple as this. When George Bush was elected president, Ken Lay and company must have felt like their ship had finally come in. They'd been backing him to the hilt, he was from their own home town, and he was eager to help the company in any way possible. The great irony of Enron's rise and fall is that it was only the sheer enormity of the company's debacle that prevented Bush from giving assistance. Lay and Skilling botched things so badly they couldn't even capitalize on their hard-earned access to a President who boasts a record of being more in the pocket of Texan oil and gas special interests than any American leader since Lyndon Johnson.

None of this, by the way, should be taken as a whitewash of the Clinton administration's Wall Street-friendly administration. Clinton clearly continued, or at least did not hinder, the deregulatory policies pioneered by Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr. The sad reality is that the only way Clinton can look good is if one compares his record to the devastation wreaked by his successor.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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