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There is a silver lining

Illustration by Josh Hagler

By Laura Winsky
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday Feb. 4, 2002

Dan Rather's evening news on CBS the other night was heart-rending. The news is always depressing, but this broadcast was particularly so, because it was about broken trust.

For the news story, CBS sent reporters to several major cities to find what they called "Enron-broken families." As if this whole fiasco wasn't bad enough, it turns out that Enron was a family-friendly corporation that liked to hire couples to work together. Sounds great until you see not one, not two, but three young babies whose mother and father were both just laid off from Enron. The birth of a child should be joyous. Instead, for many Enron "families," both incomes have been terminated, the house is up for sale and bankruptcy is in the future.

Not the American dream.

This column, however, is not about Enron. We've had Enron crammed down our throats over the past few weeks. Enron, Enron, Enron: Say it five times fast and it's still annoying. There is, however, a silver lining to this debacle. A dream deep inside the hearts of all American citizens just may come true after all. It is a dream of hope, a dream of dignity for the American political system.

And it is called campaign finance reform.

At the end of the year, Sept. 11 had buried what should have been the big issues of 2001. Campaign finance reform was one of them. Sen. Tom Daschle, D - S.D., had pledged to deliver it on a silver platter to the floor of Congress since the Senate had already passed it. Alas, in the mudslide of paperwork as Homeland Defense hit Congress, campaign reform was a distant memory. Not even Sen. John McCain, R - Ariz., nor Sen. Russ Feingold were talking about reform much anymore.

And then Enron happened. Campaign finance reform has gone from being a philosophical debate between mostly unmotivated politicians to perhaps the safety net that may protect citizens from the tragedy that just befell us. And it is a tragedy. A former Enron vice president committed suicide, for goodness' sake, and his wife is even questioning the truth behind that.

Let's face it. This is an embarrassment. It's embarrassing to our capitalistic system, certainly to the White House who was apparently married to the company, and to both Republicans and Democrats who took campaign contributions from Enron. For congressional members on either side of the political spectrum, accepting contributions from big business has been a plague for decades.

"The Enron debacle, if nothing else, shows the urgency of making reform a law. If this isn't an example - a case - for campaign reform then I don't know what is," said Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., the House minority leader. He's talking about the exciting push that's happening right now on the House floor. It's being referred to as a discharge, which means that the Senate's Campaign Finance Reform Bill, which has been stalled since last summer, will receive a new state of urgency reaching the House floor. Even Thomas Petri, a rather conservative Congressman from Wisconsin, was firm when he told National Public Radio that "reform is not a thing of ideology."

Now is the time! Reform may not affect the 2002 midterm elections, but it could make quite the stir in the 2004 Presidential elections. The thought is a giddy one. No circus, no parade, no clowns. Just ordinary, civilized elections outside the control of special interests. Just think for a moment about your senator and congressional representatives. Do you like them? Think they're doing a good job? Or is their representation of your needs fairly weak? With reform, two things could realistically happen. One, your senator gets ousted by someone who actually wants to do the job. Or two, your senator gets re-elected to his or her post free of the ties that bind. No oil company, no tobacco, no Sierra Club, no Enron, no nothing.

Elected to do the job - end of story. Now you see the magic possible with the kinds of reform that could begin with the passage of this bill.

Here, we end with a special quote by a special bearded person who has broken his yearlong self-imposed silence. It's good to have you back, Sir. "The facts are these: Overwhelmingly, the American people want campaign finance reform. The special interests do not."

Professor Al Gore

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