Where is Bob Rubin?

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NY Sun July 26, 02


The Dog That Didn’t Bark — Just Where Is Bob Rubin These Days?

Andrew Sullivan

You might think that the Treasury secretary who presided over the now-bursting bubble might be a logical subject for some of the discussion out there right now. But: Nuh-huh. Like Waldo in a cartoon, Robert Rubin is somewhat invisible these days, lost in the lazy media impulse to blame whoever’s in power now. But think about it for a minute. Here’s a guy who poured cold water on Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” comments. Along with Phil Gramm, he helped kill legislation to make derivatives more transparent — and then he went to Citigroup the same year the bank engaged in a dubious scheme to keep Enron’s paper profits afloat. He’s widely synonymous with the boom that just went bust in a big and very bad way. Worth a reporter’s phone-call or two, wouldn’t you think? Nada in the New York Times (surprise!), the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal — or anywhere, as the story broke. Even liberals like Slate’s Tim Noah picked up on this weird lacuna.

Of course, Mr. Rubin hasn’t really been absent from the media these last couple of weeks. He has one of the best media rolodexes in the country and spends almost as much time as Colin Powell and Richard Holbrooke manipulating it. There was a piece in the Washington Post last Sunday on the financial crisis and its roots, but it wasn’t likely to ask questions about Mr. Rubin’s responsibility. Why? Because Mr. Rubin wrote it himself. I guess it saves time for financial reporters. Rather than get a reporter to translate Mr. Rubin’s views into a “news” article, the Post cut out the middle-man and got Mr. Rubin to do his own spin himself.

Or take Gloria Borger’s piece in U.S. News. She asked herself the good and important question: Was this Bubba’s Bubble? Just because the Nasdaq went up 80% in one year on his watch, just because interest rates stayed artificially low, just because his Treasury secretary kept talking up the markets, just because staffing at the SEC in New York collapsed in those years — none of that means President Clinton had anything to do with it. How does Ms. Borger know this? Because Mr. Rubin told her! “Blaming Clinton is absolutely ridiculous,” Mr. Rubin is quoted as saying in her piece. “We all have our faults, and Bill Clinton has his faults. But money and greed are not among them.” This follows the Clintonian device of asserting that the only impropriety or misjudgment in Mr. Clinton’s eight years was a sordid extra-marital affair. But that isn’t the point, Gloria. We’ve just gone through a wrenching boom-and-bust. Who gets the blame for letting the boom get out of hand in 1998 and 1999? “Corporate debt was up and so was the stock market. There had to be a period of adjustment,” Mr. Rubin tells Ms. Borger. “Who gets the blame? No one in particular, says Rubin.” No one in particular? Hmmm. Whom could Mr. Rubin have been thinking of?

Even if you buy the notion that the bubble was something the Clinton administration could not have done much about (although Mr. Greenspan is another story), isn’t the Mr. Rubin angle noteworthy? He has already conceded he placed a call to the Bush Treasury Department, floating the idea of an Enron bail-out before the company’s collapse. His own bank, Citigroup, is now being investigated for constructing a phony pre-pay scheme to hide Enron’s losses in 1999. He was the most senior administration official in charge of the economy when the boom reached its crazy peak. Wouldn’t this disqualify him just a little bit from being regarded as neutral on these matters? Wouldn’t it even require some reporters to put in a couple of qualifiers to his comments? Nope. Who do they think he is? Mr. Powell?

Double Standards

A subversive movie opened last week. Reviewed glowingly in the New Yorker and the New York Times, a Sundance Festival favorite, it follows the story of a fifteen-year old boy who has the hots for older men. He’s particularly entranced by his step-father and his step-father’s best friend. The New Yorker is especially keen on one moment in the movie: “The scene in which his step-father introduces his new conquest to his gay friends over tea, and pretty well pimps him to any takers, is worth the price of a ticket.”

Wouldn’t you expect protests at movie theaters? Wouldn’t you anticipate howls of protest from such outlets as National Review or the Weekly Standard, the magazine that recently ran cover-stories on what it has called the rise of “pedophilia chic?” Not a peep. Wouldn’t you expect interviewers of the stars to ask questions about a movie that celebrates what is, in fact, statutory rape? Forget about it. When I mentioned this strange silence, a National Review contributor, Rod Dreher, said he’d never heard of the movie until I’d brought the subject up. And despite reviews in obscure places like the New York Times, no other socially conservative journalist has mentioned it.

Well, I fibbed a little. The movie is called “Tadpole,” and everything I just wrote about it is true. The only difference is that the adults who molest the minor are women, not men. The poster for the movie even has an adult woman sticking her tongue in the fifteen-year-old’s ear. Under the law, abuse of minors is abuse of minors, regardless of gender. In this culture, even among those most vocal about minor sexual abuse, it’s still a different matter.

Cassandra Award

“When people say Bill Clinton will go down as a great president because of his record on the economy, they mean two different things. First, they mean that Clinton’s economic policies have contributed to an unusually prosperous eight years. By and large, that’s true. Second, they mean that his economic team — including Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, and Alan Greenspan — developed an enduring formula for successful economic management. By and large, that’s nonsense. In fiscal policy, international economic policy, and monetary policy, the principles with which the Clinton administration has become identified can’t solve the challenges faced by the next administration. In fact, they didn’t even solve the challenges faced by this one.” — John B. Judis, The New Republic, January 2001.

-- (upstairs@the.downstairs), July 27, 2002



-- (downstairs@the.upstaire), July 27, 2002.

Not sure of the exact geographic location of his whereabouts, but I believe he is now working for Citigroup.

-- (no@longer.gubmint), July 27, 2002.

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