RUBIN, IT'S YOU: If it's the piece of the day, it must be appearing in the New York Times. It begins discreetly on page A1, then explodes into Big Story layout on page A20, where the need to fill space allows room for an ample and appropriately reverential headline: "Rubin as Commanding Public Figure and Top Private Banker." Something seems to be nagging at the Times hierarchy: the idea that sainted Democrat Robert Rubin could emerge as tainted by the Enron scandal as it's determined to paint Enron-friendly Republicans. So once and for all, can we do away any such notions?
The unsatirizable prose breaks new ground. That famous call to a Treasury undersecretary just before Enron tanked? "Even some of Mr. Rubin's friends say privately that it was a rare misstep for a man known for caution and foresight." And just so there'll be no misunderstanding, that unfortunate call "will probably be no more than a footnote in the Enron story." It used to be that newspapers provided history's first draft. With the Times first becomes final with no intervening stages. The paper then clicks into the purring mode: "Wearing his customary charcoal suit and white shirt, he is youthfully trim but gives little evidence of overt vanity." Or this: "Such are the passions he is pursuing.... His devotion to rapid deficit reduction, viewed even by some Republicans as the cornerstone of the 90's prosperity..." Even by some Republicans, those otherwise unspeakable jerks! Like a busy dad who always has time for his kids, Rubin has even taken to "coaching Senator Daschle and other leaders on ways to debunk Bush military spending and tax cuts." Maybe the next installment will explain how one actually debunks military spending. Many a terrorist cell would like to know.
TOMASKY'S TURN: Whether footnote or god, Robert Rubin is an uneasy symbol for liberal scribes determined to pin Enron on Republicans. So better to pretend that he or the countless other corporate world Democrats who brought us the Clinton years don't exist -- or if exposed insist they were merely reflecting Republican values. That's what New York magazine's Michael Tomasky posited the other week in the Washington Post. In an argument that might hold up in a Madison Avenue advertising agency, he declared: "Even if Bush administration members didn't have anything to do with Enron's accounting shenanigans and even if they didn't come to the firm's rescue, George W. Bush is linked to Kenneth Lay as surely as Bill Clinton occupied the same cultural orbit as Barbra Streisand." (That proposition would tempt only those who see Clinton was as red as Streisand in The Way We Were.) In its expanded form, Tomasky's argument revolves around Democratic-backed regulations and Republican opposition to them. By his logic, any misdeed not prevented by Democratic-initiated laws can safely be blamed on the GOP.
To his credit, Tomasky doesn't hide his partisanship. It was in fact on full display in Hillary's Turn, the book he wrote last year on Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign -- a book more noteworthy for his insight into Rudy Giuliani and how no self-respecting New York politician would ever choose serving in Washington over New York City. About Hillary he was less interesting, perhaps because he didn't know that much about her pre-New York life. Early on you suspected trouble when he wrote of Vince Foster's suicide as having occurred in 1995, listing it as one of several unhappy events during a bad patch for the Clintons that year. Be careful, though, if you remind him Foster died in 1993. He might think you're exhibiting Republican values.
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