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The Death of Outrage
January 23, 2002
by J. Carlos Jiacinto

Earlier this week I wrote an article assailing the Republicans for their lack of compassion regarding Enron's bankruptcy and the employees who lost their life savings. Today the scandal reached new heights: it turns out that Enron has not paid income tax in the last four out of five years. The more that time passes the more dirt that seems to emerge from this scandal. Along with the growing smell of corruption, nepotism, and crony capitalism, the stench of total hypocrisy and arrogance fills the air.

During the Clinton impeachment scandals and Whitewater, conservative William Bennettt wrote the book "The Death of Outrage." The book attacked the Clintons for the "lack of ethics" and the "immorality" brought on by their adminstration. It spared no words and preached to the conservative right how important morals and values are.

Notoriously absent during the Enron debacle are the GOP's ethics contigent. Most notably, as I write this article tonight, William Bennett, author of the "Book of Virtues" remains silent about how greed, indifference, and rephrensible callousness ruined the life savings of Enron's employees. Even the most conservative Republican would be hard-pressed to disagree that Ken Lay and his colleagues lack complete integrity and regard for anyone but themselves.

The conservatives' lack of outrage revealed how inconsistent and selective their view of "morality" is. Whenever a Democrat engages in alleged ethical lapses the GOP's top leaders write scathing editorials and hold press conferences that assail their lack of "integrity and character."

However, when GOP politicians and contributors engage in unethical behavior, they rationalize these indescretions with self-serving excuses such as "I was being young and irresponsible." Throughout the late 1990s, while Clinton's ethical lapses dominated the headlines, no one mentioned the time that Newt Gingrich divorced one of his wives while she was suffering from cancer. No one mentioned how many GOP politicans manipulated the system to avoid Vietnam Service just like Clinton.

Enron's actions destroyed the financial lives of their investors and their employees. Thanks to the actions of Ken Lay and his corporate staff the lives of a multitude of individuals have been decimiated so that they could profit at their expense. The fact that conservative pundits like Bob Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Ann Coulter focus on Clinton and the Democrats, instead of assailing Enron's indefensible conduct reveals how they only care about ethical lapses and scandals if, and only if, the other party is involved. Issues like "ethics, integrity, personal responsibility, conduct, and character" no longer matter when the scandals reach their own party's shores.

Enron's unethical and perhaps criminal fraud may or may not affect the President, the GOP Congress, or its major contributors. Perhaps only Enron employees will go to jail or face criminal indictments. Although these executives must face accountability for their action, the greater lesson from this corporate collapse is that the American people must remember not who spoke the loudest, but who remained completely silent during this ordeal. Then they must remember who screamed the loudest during the Clinton era. They must never forget - and forget, they won't.

The fraud that Enron perpetuated, coupled with the lack of outrage on the part of the right, reveals how greed and financial deception never count as "ethical lapses or indecent." The only form of indescretions that matter involve Democrats and sexual misconduct. I lament that the book the "Death of Outrage" failed to achieve its goal: making the political world more concerned about values and morals.

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