MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 16

International Socialist Review, February–March 2001

Alan Maass

Bush’s Cabinet: Fat Cats,
Bigots, and War Criminals


From International Socialist Review, Issue 16, February–March 2001.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.


Alan Maass digs up the dirt on Bush’s cabinet, and finds them to be a solid pro-business team fully qualified to attack civil rights, workers’ rights, abortion rights, and environmental regulations.

Even leaving aside his theft of the White House in one of the most appalling frauds in the history of American politics, there’s something surreal about George “Dubya” Bush as president of the United States.

This is a man who drifted through the finest schools in the country on the strength of his name alone. Most of his business ventures were failures, though he himself prospered by relying on the kindness of his father’s friends. He’s never had to do a real day’s work in his life – at least not what most people would consider to be work. This is a man who can only be described as a pampered mediocrity – yet he has risen to the very top.

As the late journalist Lars Erik-Nelson wrote last year in the New York Review of Books:

Bush’s spectacular career rebuts the notion that America has become a meritocracy, in which we are all born equal and then judged upon our intelligence, talent, creativity or aggressiveness. Bush is an aristocrat. His successes are in one way or another a direct consequence of his name and family, and he has been exempt from the normal competition – academic, financial, professional, political – that confronts most Americans and sorts them on life’s ladder. He comes from the powerful and half-hidden world whose most important question is not “What do you know?” but “Who are your people?” On the basis of his own performance, he is more qualified to be King of England, through his father’s kinship with the Queen, than president.

During the election campaign, Bush did his best to hide his background as American royalty. He pretended that he was a political outsider with few connections to the Washington establishment – he was just a down-to-earth guy from the all-American community of Midland, Texas.

Dubya did grow up in Midland, but he also spent summer vacations in Florida – at a family compound in an exclusive area north of Palm Beach, where the neighbors were named Mellon, Ford, Roosevelt, Vanderbilt, and Harriman. For high school, Bush was sent off to the famous Phillips Academy prep school in Andover, Massachusetts. He didn’t really have the grades to get in. But his father had gone there.

Bush used the same method to get into Yale University. Like his father before him and his father before that, Dubya joined the Skull and Bones secret society. Plus, there were his duties at Yale’s party fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon – aside from drinking and womanizing, he apparently took DKE’s traditions seriously, causing a minor stir on campus when he defended the practice of branding fraternity pledges. With all this to occupy his time, Bush understandably didn’t shine in the classroom.

Dubya left college in the late 1960s, at the height of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Thanks to his father’s political connections, he avoided going to war by snagging a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard – bypassing a long waiting list. He even managed to score a lieutenant’s commission after just five weeks of basic training and no officer’s training. But this good fortune didn’t stop Dubya from skipping out on his duties from May 1972 to May 1973, when he was supposed to have transferred to the Alabama Air National Guard but simply never showed up.

With degrees from Yale and Harvard Business School in hand, Bush followed his father into the oil business. This should have been a win-win situation. By the 1970s, Texas politicians had filled the tax code with so many breaks for the oil industry that finding oil wasn’t really necessary for financial success. Nevertheless, in short order, Dubya’s oil drilling company was on the verge of going under. But it never quite did. Dubya was bailed out again and again by a series of investors who were willing to take a bath as a favor to Papa Bush, who was fast ascending the Republican establishment ladder in Washington.

Dubya had the same good luck in the baseball business. He was the front man for a consortium of investors who bought the Texas Rangers. He had to borrow the $600,000 that he invested in the team – a stake that turned into $15 million after the city of Arlington, Texas, built the Rangers a new stadium with public money. Showing an uncharacteristic thoughtfulness about his place in life, Bush once said of his Ranger years, “I was a pit bull on the pant leg of opportunity.”

Bush went into politics the same way he entered the business world – at the top. His very first elected office was governor of Texas, which he won in 1994, riding the coattails of the “Republican Revolution” that took control of Congress away from the Democrats.

From the start, Bush showed his talents for taking care of the rich. One of his first initiatives was “tort reform” – legislation that restricted people’s ability to sue corporations. According to the Center for Economic Justice in Austin, Texas, insurance companies enjoyed extra profits of $3 billion thanks to Bush’s law.

Bush got right to work on the environment, too. During his reign, not a single representative from an environmental or consumer group served on the state’s Natural Resources Conservation Commission. When Bush decided to “reform” Texas pollution laws, his hacks on the commission got together with representatives of the oil and chemical industries to write legislation that allowed corporations to police themselves.

According to the Texas environmental group Public Research Works, the same companies that “helped” Bush rewrite the laws pumped $1.5 million into Bush’s 1998 campaign for governor – and millions more into his presidential campaign. Meanwhile, under Bush’s reign, Houston surpassed Los Angeles as the most polluted city in the country.

As at every stage of his life, Bush steered clear of hard work. He started most days at 9 a.m., took two hours for lunch, and was out of the office by 5 p.m. – and that still left time for afternoons of computer solitaire or video golf.

Fortunately for Dubya, the Texas constitution limits the powers of the governor – so he just didn’t have that much to do. But there was one duty that he couldn’t shake, as much as he tried to limit his attention to it: his role as executioner.

During his six years in the governor’s mansion, Bush oversaw 152 executions – about one-fifth of all executions in the U.S. as a whole for the last quarter century. And for all his hot air about taking a careful look at death penalty cases, Dubya spent an average of about 15 minutes on every prisoner who was put to death on his watch.

By last summer, even the mainstream media was beginning to ask questions about Bush’s killing machine. Dubya’s courageous response was to blame somebody else. He claimed that he was powerless to stop an execution unless the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted for clemency. That was a crock. Bush filled the pardon board with his political appointees.

And there’s no getting around Bush’s personal responsibility for speeding up the Texas machinery of death to its record-breaking pace of 40 executions last year – the most in a single state in one year in U.S. history. Dubya championed the 1995 Texas law that put strict time limits on death row appeals – including the despicable requirement that new evidence of innocence be presented within 30 days after conviction. Bush’s goal for the law was to accelerate the time between sentencing and execution to an average of seven years or less. Given that time span, every one of the seven men found innocent and released from death row in Texas since 1988 would have died in the execution chamber.

Bush’s record in Texas is clear from the statistics: first in executions, first in the percentage of children without health insurance, first in air and water pollution, and dead last in spending for teachers.

And now he’s out to do the same to the U.S. as a whole.

Dick Cheney
Vice President

As the Republicans began planning their move back to the White House, one newspaper headline said it all: “See Dick run things.”

The mainstream media welcomed Dick Cheney’s role as puppet master of the Bush White House, declaring that his presence brought “maturity” and “political experience.” But behind this fond image lies one of the most hardened right-wingers in Washington.

Cheney got his start in the Nixon White House in the late 1960s – where he rose through the ranks by attaching himself to the coattails of his mentor, Donald Rumsfeld, now Bush’s defense secretary. Cheney eventually became Gerald Ford’s chief of staff.

When Ford was beaten in 1976, Cheney headed home to Wyoming – but he was back in Washington two years later as Wyoming’s representative in the U.S. House. There, he compiled a right-wing voting record that vies with that of Jesse Helms. Of 27 votes on legislation concerning reproductive rights, Cheney took the anti-choice side 26 times – including one vote for legislation that banned abortions even in cases of rape or incest. He was one of only eight members of Congress to oppose reauthorization the Clean Water Act and one of only 33 to vote against funding the Head Start education program.

In 1985, Cheney voted against a House resolution calling on the butchers of apartheid South Africa to release Nelson Mandela after 23 years of imprisonment – a decision that
Cheney actually defended during last year’s election campaign.

Cheney had risen into the House Republican leadership when Papa Bush picked him as defense secretary in 1989. He became Bush’s right-hand man in projecting U.S. military power around the globe after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the former USSR.

Cheney zealously pushed for the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq over all objections, even from the Pentagon. When Air Force General Michael Dugan admitted to a reporter on the eve of the air war that Iraq wouldn’t be able to defend itself against the overwhelming arsenal of the U.S., Cheney fired him immediately. Once the slaughter began, Cheney took pride in his regular briefings of Congress, which one staffer described to CounterPunch magazine as “a horror show. Cheney tended to dwell on the gruesome efficiency of the bombing campaign and hyping the smart-bomb technology with piles of data that later proved bogus.”

When Bush lost the 1992 election, he and his cronies went to work for the oil companies they had organized a war for. Cheney ended up at Halliburton, the world’s largest oil services company, where he became CEO in 1995. Halliburton coincidentally had the good fortune to make a killing on contracts to clean up Kuwait’s oil industry after the Gulf War. Under Cheney, the company developed a lucrative sideline as a construction subcontractor for the Pentagon. Between 1996 and 1999, Cheney’s old friends at the Pentagon gave Halliburton $1.8 billion worth of contracts to build military bases and other facilities that provided the infrastructure for U.S. interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Cheney was handsomely rewarded for his time. He made $39 million in salary and stock options for five years of work. That included a $13.6 million “retirement” package, which sparked such a controversy that Cheney had to give up part of it.

During the vice presidential “debate” last year, when Joe Lieberman teased Cheney about his millions from Halliburton, Cheney shot back, “I can tell you, Joe, that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.” That was a shameless lie. Cheney’s political clout had everything to do with making him – and Halliburton – very rich.

Cheney was quick to answer the call when asked to work for his former boss’s son. He ran Dubya’s vice presidential selection process – and arrived at the conclusion that he was by far the most qualified candidate.

The Bush-Cheney slate became known as the Wizard of Oz ticket. George W. Bush needed a brain. And Dick Cheney needed a heart – in more ways than one.

Colin Powell
Secretary of State

Not a single senator opposed Colin Powell’s confirmation as secretary of state, but that was no surprise. Powell is celebrated by Democrats and Republicans alike as a hero of the U.S. Gulf War against Iraq, as an African American who rose through the ranks based on ability alone, as a rock of integrity amid the corruption of Washington politics.

And every bit of it is a crock.

Powell is a veteran war criminal. He did two tours of duty in Vietnam – the second as a staff officer in the Army’s 23rd Division, which carried out the 1969 My Lai massacre of 400 Vietnamese villagers, most of them women, children, and the elderly. Powell arrived shortly after the slaughter and helped to organize the cover-up.

Back in Washington, Powell became a career bureaucrat. But in the mid-1980s, he was drafted by the fanatics who ran Ronald Reagan’s “basement White House” to help fight their illegal wars. To this day, Powell stands by every cockamamy story cranked out by the Reagan lie machine – from Cuba’s alleged construction of an “extended airstrip” in Grenada to the Nicaraguan government’s “plot” to foment revolution across Central America. Though his mentors hatched the scheme of selling arms illegally to Iran and using the proceeds to fund the contras, Powell managed to escape the Contragate scandal unscathed, eventually becoming Reagan’s National Security Advisor.

When Papa Bush took over the White House, he appointed Powell as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell oversaw the 1989 invasion of Panama, in which U.S. forces killed an estimated 7,000 people in a glorified drug raid designed to topple and capture a corrupt dictator that the U.S. had installed in the first place.

Then came the 1991 Gulf War, which gave Washington’s media establishment the opportunity to turn Powell into a hero for organizing a one-sided slaughter that killed an estimated 200,000 people. Powell’s battle plan for subduing Iraq’s poorly equipped army – ”First, we’re going to cut it off; then, we’re going to kill it” – ran to form in one of the most appalling war crimes in world history.

Bill Clinton did his best to suck up to him, but Powell quit the Pentagon in 1993. As a parting gift, he sabotaged Clinton’s promise to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the military – by threatening mass resignations of military brass if the commander-in-chief dared to defy his subordinates. Clinton saw the light and announced his “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Powell’s job after that – aside from the claptrap he took on for cover about inspiring people to volunteer – was as a political gadfly. The media that lionized him during the Gulf War breathlessly speculated about whether he would run for political office – and took each refusal as further sign of his integrity. But Powell – ”the most politically adroit general the United States has seen since Dwight D. Eisenhower,” as one commentator put it – was just shopping around for the best deal.

Donald Rumsfeld
Defense Secretary

The name Donald Rumsfeld is almost a synonym for the military-industrial complex. This is a man who dedicated much of his adult life to the twin objectives of building up U.S. military power and lining the pockets of America’s defense contractors.

After serving several terms in the House in the 1960s, Rumsfeld went to work for the Nixon White House. He spent plenty of evenings in the Oval Office, drinking scotch and shooting the breeze with the boss – which meant that his toadying was caught on Nixon’s White House tapes. In one memorable exchange, Rumsfeld voiced his approval as Nixon went on an incoherent racist rant about the difference between Africans and Black Americans.

Under Gerald Ford, Rumsfeld served as White House chief of staff and later as defense secretary. Taking over the Pentagon in the aftermath of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, he made it his mission to pull the demoralized military establishment back together again. His prescription? Rattle sabers and spend lots of money.

Rumsfeld took a hard line in the Cold War against the former USSR. He engineered the collapse of the SALT II arms control treaty by getting Ford and the Pentagon brass to withdraw support from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger even as the good doctor was at the negotiating table in Moscow.

Rumsfeld never met a weapons system he didn’t like – and the higher the price tag, the greater his enthusiasm. He paved the way for some of the Pentagon’s most expensive boondoggles – for example, the B-1 bomber, which proved so unreliable that the Air Force didn’t dare send it into combat during the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s formidable air defense system.

When the Democrats took over the White House in 1977, Rumsfeld migrated to the corporate boardroom, heading the pharmaceutical giant G.D. Searle and later the technology firm General Instrument. He was a ruthless job killer, laying off more than 30 percent of the workforce at both companies.

All the while, Rumsfeld kept his military connections, sitting on numerous Washington commissions. Rumsfeld’s latest cause is the Star Wars missile-defense system. He led a 1998 panel that discovered – in contrast to nearly all military experts – that the U.S. desperately needed a Star Wars system to defend itself from missile attack by “rogue nations” such as China and North Korea.

Now Rumsfeld is regularly babbling about the need for the U.S. to be able to wage war in outer space. “Rummy’s gone a little fruity over the past few years,” a Congressional staffer told CounterPunch magazine. “Some have taken to calling him the Star Child, after the demonic figure at the end of Kubrick’s film 2001. First, he comes out full bore for a new $60 billion edition of Star Wars, pointing the finger at the supposed missile threat from North Korea and Iran – two countries that can barely keep their traffic lights working. Now he’s back obsessing on killer satellites, space lasers and using nukes against runaway asteroids.”

Paul O’Neill
Treasury Secretary

Paul O’Neill may be the only member of Dubya’s oil-friendly Cabinet ever to support an increase in gas taxes. At the 1992 economic summit organized by President-elect Bill Clinton, O’Neill was on hand to push for a gas tax hike – though mainly as a way of balancing the budget, not for environmental reasons.

His nomination as treasury secretary provoked muttering from conservatives concerned that he isn’t a fanatical devotee of Reaganite supply-side lunacy. For the same reason, he’s been welcomed by Democrats – and even by some labor leaders, including the United Steelworkers’ George Becker, who should know better.

Make no mistake: This man is no bleeding heart.

O’Neill got connected in Washington as a bureaucrat in the Nixon and Ford White Houses, where he was an economic analyst. He was considered an expert on health care – or to be more precise, on cutting health care “costs.” For example, he helped to scuttle a spending program to promote hospital construction by predicting an “oversupply” of hospital beds.

When Ford got the boot, O’Neill headed for the private sector. He was an executive at the notorious union buster, International Paper. In 1987, O’Neill was recruited by his old Ford White House buddy Alan Greenspan to take over as CEO of Alcoa. O’Neill got the credit for making the aluminum giant lean and mean after tough times – a reputation that certainly wasn’t hurt when he slashed 10,000 jobs.

But his real achievement was to engineer a U.S. government bailout of the aluminum industry in 1993. When prices collapsed worldwide, the Clinton administration – at O’Neill’s urging – put together a deal for every aluminum-producing country to restrict production. William Grieder pointed out in the Nation that O’Neill’s OPEC-like brainchild made a mockery of all of the talk about free trade that politicians are so fond of. But then again, as any treasury secretary can tell you, profit comes first.

John Ashcroft
Attorney General

It’s hard to know where to start with John Ashcroft. A new outrage was revealed almost every day after his nomination for attorney general – from his admiration for Southern slave owners to his fanatical opposition to abortion to his contempt for civil rights. Yet the man who couldn’t beat a corpse to win reelection to the U.S. Senate last year is now the nation’s highest law enforcement official.

Take the issue of abortion. Ashcroft thinks it should be banned – without exception. As a senator, he was one of three cosponsors of the Human Life Amendment, which would not only outlaw abortions but some forms of contraception. He opposed legislation to require federal employee health plans to cover the cost of prescription contraceptives – since contraceptives such as the pill “act de facto as abortifacients,” he explained. Ashcroft backed a 1999 effort by Missouri lawmakers to ban the late-term abortion procedure misnamed “partial birth” abortion. The legislation was so loosely written that it would have barred many first- and second-trimester procedures – and actually allowed the use of force against doctors, nurses, or patients at an abortion facility.

The man who Bush wants to head the federal government’s enormous law enforcement apparatus has the same rabid hatred for civil rights – at least for African Americans and other minorities. As attorney general of Missouri, he opposed a voluntary plan to desegregate schools in metropolitan St. Louis. As governor, he vetoed legislation to extend simpler voter registration procedures used by white suburbs to predominantly African American St. Louis. He opposed legislation in the U.S. Senate to outlaw discrimination against gays and led the fight to block Bill Clinton’s appointment of James Hormel, who is openly gay, as ambassador to Luxembourg.

Ashcroft is better known for derailing Clinton’s appointment of Ronnie White, the first African American to serve on the Missouri Supreme Court, as a federal judge. He ambushed the nomination on the Senate floor by lining up every Republican to vote against a man whose appointment was backed by Missouri’s main police organization. Ashcroft denounced White as “pro-criminal” with a record that showed “a tremendous bent toward criminal activity.”

Ashcroft was all tolerance and moderation when he testified at his confirmation hearings. But that was an act. This is the same man who gave an interview in 1999 to the far-right Southern Partisan magazine, where he talked about his admiration for Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and other leaders of the Confederacy during the Civil War. And in 1999, when Ashcroft was given an honorary degree by Bob Jones University, the South Carolina school for racists and the religious right, he not only showed up in person, but gave the commencement address. The event was, he wrote in his Christmas cards, one of the highlights of his year.

Naturally, Ashcroft likes to talk tough on crime. He’s a bloodthirsty supporter of the death penalty and an opponent of all efforts to change mandatory minimum-sentencing laws. The only problem with the drug war, Ashcroft says, is that the U.S. isn’t fighting hard enough. A government that “assures citizens that, if you’re involved in drugs, we’ll be there to catch you with a treatment center and also implements a clean needle program is a government that accommodates us at our lowest and least,” Ashcroft said in a Senate speech.

Of course, there are always exceptions. When Ashcroft’s nephew Alex was caught and convicted of growing marijuana, he faced mandatory jail time under federal prosecution. Instead, he got probation on a state charge. Likewise, Ashcroft’s Senate office intervened to defend Charles Sell, a Missouri dentist indicted on charges of conspiracy to murder an FBI agent and a federal witness. Not exactly a model citizen, but he kept the right company. Sell is a member of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) – a descendent of the White Citizen Councils that terrorized civil rights activists 40 years ago. Ashcroft met with a representative of the CCC during his Senate reelection campaign last year. Within days, he was denouncing the barbarism of the criminal justice system – at least when it came to organized racists.

Tommy Thompson
Health and Human Services Secretary

To judge from the fawning treatment he gets from the mainstream media, you’d think Tommy Thompson was some kind of a visionary intellectual. But he’s just a plain-old right-wing zealot. Thompson has plotted his move to the national stage with care, and you can be sure that he’ll waste no opportunity to exploit the method that has served him well as governor of Wisconsin for the last 14 years: stepping on the most vulnerable people in society to boost his political profile.

Thompson is known as the godfather of welfare “reform” for pioneering a series of schemes to slash government programs for the poor, which are now in effect to various degrees around the country. He started out with simple, mean-spirited measures to punish welfare recipients – for example, withholding benefits from parents whose children missed school or from recipients who had another child while on welfare. When these proved popular with the pundits, Thompson pushed further – with work requirements for recipients and strict lifetime limits on how long people could receive welfare.

Thompson basically abolished welfare in Wisconsin. The number of families receiving benefits has dropped from 98,000 to less than 7,000. Where did they all go? That’s something Thompson doesn’t know – since the state hasn’t tracked former welfare recipients to see what happened to them. The 1990s economic expansion, with its vast increase in low-wage, service-sector jobs, partially hid the impact of welfare reform. But social service agencies in Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, say that demand for emergency shelter and food aid shot up as Thompson’s laws went into effect.

Thompson’s right-wing attacks didn’t end with welfare. He’s also an anti-abortion fanatic. Thompson signed a law banning the misnamed “partial-birth” abortion procedure, which was so vaguely worded that every abortion provider in the state closed their doors out of fear that they could be arrested – until a court put an injunction on the law. Thompson also chipped away at the right to choose with laws requiring parental consent for minors, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and counseling on “alternatives” to abortion.

Thompson is also known as a leading proponent of a proposal to overhaul the Medicaid insurance program for the poor – by abolishing the federal government’s role and converting Medicaid into a system of block grants to the states.

Can you guess which Bush Cabinet official is responsible for overseeing Medicaid? Yep, Tommy Thompson.

Gale Norton
Interior Secretary

Remember James Watt? He was the anti-environment kook that Ronald Reagan picked as his interior secretary. He was in charge of ... well, the environment. Among his many lunatic positions, Watt opposed conserving natural resources so that future generations could enjoy them. Why bother, Watt said: “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.”

Now Dubya and the boys have installed a Watt protégé as interior secretary: Gale Norton.

Norton is alleged to have supported left-wing causes as a youth – until she fell in with the Objectivists, the nutty followers of philosopher Ayn Rand, who believe in unfettered free-market capitalism.

After graduating from law school, Norton got a job at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a think tank led by Watt and funded by far-right bankroller Joseph Coors to promote right-wing causes in court. The “Colorado crazies” – as the Mountain States gang was known – were notorious for their mad-dog attacks on environmental law. Norton helped to pioneer the novel argument that the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires the federal government to pay polluters not to pollute. As silly as it may sound, such ideas paved the way for today’s “wise use” movement, the corporate-backed drive in the West to abolish environmental regulations and open public lands to mining, logging, and oil and gas exploration.

When Mr. Watt went to Washington, Norton followed him. As an associate solicitor at the Interior Department, she made her mark with a report recommending oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Norton was elected attorney general of Colorado in 1990. Naturally, she pursued her obsession with scrapping pollution laws. But she did plenty of other damage. Norton led the battle to defend the anti-gay ballot referendum Amendment 2, which was passed by voters but declared unconstitutional in the courts. Norton lost one appeal after another, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1998, Norton took to the national stage as cofounder of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group dedicated to finding “free market solutions to environmental problems.” And you can tell just how dedicated by the list of sponsors for the group’s gala inaugural meeting in Washington: the National Coal Council, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the National Mining Association, and the Chlorine Chemical Council, to name but a few.

To put money in the bank, Norton took a job as a lobbyist for NL Industries, a company better known by its former name, the National Lead Company. National Lead produced millions of gallons of lead-based Dutch Boy paint, which is suspected of leading to death and brain damage for thousands of children. NL is facing at least a dozen lawsuits regarding lead poisoning, and it is a defendant in lawsuits involving 75 Superfund or other toxic waste sites.

Norton makes yet another admirer of the Confederacy in Bush’s Cabinet. In a 1996 speech to a conservative group, she declared that “we lost too much” when the South was defeated in the Civil War. Slavery, she said, was one of those “bad facts” that can undermine an otherwise strong case.

Elaine Chao
Labor Secretary

George W. Bush has picked a Cabinet that only a CEO could love. But Linda Chavez, his nominee for labor secretary, was above and beyond the call. Her nomination was effectively a declaration of war on organized labor.

But there was a hitch in the battle plan.

Chavez’s nomination collapsed in a smoking heap after revelations that an undocumented worker from Guatemala had lived in Chavez’s home and done chores, apparently in exchange for cash. According to media reports, Chavez hid the matter from the Bush gang – who promptly cut her loose when the story hit the front pages.

Whatever the case, the scandal certainly proves that Chavez is a hypocrite. When the same charge was leveled at Zoe Baird, Bill Clinton’s first nominee for attorney general in 1993, Chavez helped to lead the right-wing attack. On the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, Chavez said she was concerned not so much that Baird had failed to pay Social Security taxes for the domestic worker, but that she had “harbored an illegal immigrant.”

Unfortunately, Democrats – and more than a few liberal organizations – adopted this same anti-immigrant attitude toward Chavez. There were plenty of good reasons to fight Chavez’s nomination, and focusing on these real issues would have been an excellent first step in telling Dubya that he isn’t going to get away with turning back the clock.

Chavez, after all, got her start in Republican Party politics in the Reagan White House as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which she tried to turn into a task force for abolishing affirmative action. She later joined the White House staff and learned the art of right-wing demagoguery at the feet of a master – Pat Buchanan. Buchanan no doubt kicked down a few doors to help Chavez to join the media punditocracy. As a conservative mouthpiece for hire, Chavez lent her name to an incredible array of right-wing causes – from English-only laws to the backlash against feminism.

Once Chavez withdrew her name, the Bush team was quick to nominate Elaine Chao for labor secretary, and union leaders responded enthusiastically. But it’s hard to see what they’re so happy about. Chao may not be a mad dog, but as the Washington Post put it, few people are “under any illusions that she is a liberal. Chao’s credentials are conservative.”

Chao is part of Washington’s conservative establishment. Her last job was as a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the granddaddy of right-wing think tanks. She’s every bit as ardent an opponent of affirmative action as Chavez is. As a participant in Bill Clinton’s “Dialogue on Race,” she echoed the tired right-wing saw about all of the corporations that pass over the best-qualified candidate in order to hire minorities. And the new head of the Labor Department is most familiar with the inside of a corporate boardroom – sitting on the boards of Clorox, Dole Food, and Northwest Airlines, which distinguished itself last year by stonewalling unions in negotiations for new contracts.

But Chao’s best qualification to be Bush’s labor secretary is that she was a big Dubya backer. Her husband, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the fanatical opponent of campaign finance reform, recently stepped down as head of the Republican Party’s fundraising racket called the “pioneers” – in which members raise at least $100,000 for each election. Chao herself qualified as a “pioneer” for Election 2000. “There are certainly many people out there with the qualifications to be labor secretary,” said Steven Weiss of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Being a huge fundraiser for President Bush could certainly help.”

Christine Todd Whitman
Environmental Protection Agency

When she was sworn in as governor in 1993, Christine Todd Whitman declared that New Jersey was “open for business.”

It sure was.

The woman who will lead the Environmental Protection Agency under Dubya cut New Jersey’s budget for environmental protection by 30 percent. Fines for air and water polluters dropped by almost three-quarters.

Yet Whitman is being played up as a Republican environmentalist – because of her courageous opposition to dumping garbage in the Atlantic Ocean.

In fact, Whitman has been an insistent complainer about the terrible burdens heaped on defenseless multinational corporations by the EPA. At her confirmation hearings, she said openly that she thinks it’s a good idea to give the power for regulating pollution to state and local governments.

That’s no surprise, given Whitman’s repeated clashes in New Jersey with the agency she now heads – over standards for auto-emissions inspections, a water-quality monitoring program, and protections for wetlands. One of the biggest battles came over a bald scheme to relax water-quality rules – which Whitman decided to announce to the world while on a canoe trip.

Whitman’s opinions about the environment aren’t far off from those of “Colorado crazy” Gale Norton. But you’d never know it from the mainstream media, which insists on calling her a Republican moderate. There’s nothing in her record to warrant this label – except for the fact that she’s pro-choice. But that was enough to earn her the hatred of the Christian crazies who took over the Republican Party after the 1994 election. Whitman, who had been a rising star of the party, was elbowed aside. But if she runs the EPA like she did New Jersey, she’ll make the GOP’s big-business backers very happy.

Rod Paige
Education Secretary

Rod Paige is probably more important for who he isn’t – the high-profile Democrat that the Bush team hoped to coax into the Cabinet. A Democrat as education secretary would have polished Dubya’s fake image as a bipartisan “uniter” and provided someone to walk point on the issue of school vouchers when the administration pushed education “reform.” But none of the likely suspects went for the bait, so Bush had to make do with Paige.

Paige ran the public school system in Houston, where he cultivated a reputation as a stand-and-deliver kind of administrator. He isn’t a vouchers fanatic, but he is much more clearly identified with the issue of school “accountability” – as measured by standardized tests taken annually by public school kids. Both Bush and Paige built their education credentials on raising scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test. But there’s another side to the statistics that says a lot about the problems with testing. First, while TAAS scores rose under Bush’s reign in Texas, no other measure of student performance matched the gains. The explanation, say education experts, is that Texas schools haven’t improved so much as teachers have tailored their classes to drilling students on how to pass the test.

Then there are the scams that administrators use to keep up test scores. While Paige was superintendent, Houston schools were rocked by a scandal involving officials expanding the size of special education classes, where students are exempted from testing. And Paige has been accused of fiddling with the numbers to get a wildly exaggerated graduation rate.

Don Evans
Commerce Secretary

Who’d have thought that it would pay to latch onto Dubya back in the mid-1970s, when he was a drunken lout making a fool of himself in the Midland, Texas oil industry?

Don Evans must be pinching himself.

Evans has been a Friend of George – or FOG – for 25 years and a backer of Dubya’s political campaigns dating back to a failed run for a U.S. House seat in 1978. He served as the unpaid chair of Bush’s presidential campaign, raising a record-breaking $100 million to help his pal “win” the White House. Evans runs the oil and gas company Tom Brown, and no media bio is complete without a reference to the fact that he started out at the company as a “roughneck,” a crewman on an oil rig. But few other oil-rig workers managed to become president of the company inside of five years.

Evans’ job as commerce secretary is mostly to be a cheerleader for American corporations. But for some mysterious reason, the Commerce Department oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will give Evans an opportunity to help with the Bush team project of wrecking the planet.

Spencer Abraham
Energy Secretary

In 1999, then-Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) cosponsored a measure to abolish the U.S. Department of Energy. Wasteful government bureaucracy, you see. Better off without it. Then Abraham joined the Republican club of Election 2000 losers, which qualified him for a spot in Dubya’s Cabinet – as energy secretary, head of the bureaucracy he wanted to abolish. Abraham’s thinking on the subject has changed, a Bush transition team spokesperson told reporters.

As a senator, Abraham represented the state of Michigan – which means he did whatever General Motors told him to do. His top priority was blocking a proposal to require higher fuel-efficiency standards for SUVs and light trucks. But Abraham also found time to oppose funding for alternative-energy research and to cosponsor the Republicans’ scheme to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.

Of course, even Abraham doesn’t figure that his opinions on energy policy will matter much in an administration filled with Texas oilmen. “Fortunately,” he told reporters after Bush announced his nomination, “this administration is comprised of many individuals with incredible expertise in these areas.”

Alan Maass is the editor of Socialist Worker newspaper

Last updated on 27 July 2021