Matt Miller - The Archives
My Enron Confession
My syndicated column, January 16, 2002
A little schadenfraude goes a long way

I knew something was up when I felt that first frisson of glee shudder through me the day Enron consumed the world like a great tide.

It peaked when Paul O'Neill looked at Lou Dobbs on TV that first night and, apropos of the implications for pension and accounting laws, deadpanned, "This is not about Enron." Lou and I shook our heads and smiled knowingly.

Like any post-modern man in the age of self-help, self-absorption and countless other species of obligatory narcissism, I try to keep abreast of any unusual fluctuations in my emotional state. What I was feeling, I realized, went beyond mere schadenfraude, that perverse delight in another's misery so common among writers and the other petty professions.

No, this was a fuller-blown excitement, reflecting a deep well of despair discernable only because it was now suddenly producing such a gusher of hope: Yes! I thought. Maybe this will at last take a bite out of those Bushies and stop their evil domestic agenda in its tracks!

Let me step back. As far as I'm concerned, President Bush has been doing a fine job on the terror front to date, and I'm praying he and his team continue to fare well there. And I swear, people who know me will tell you I'm usually a substantive guy immune to blind partisanship. Why, I'm as likely to blast Democrats for demagoguing needed Social Security reforms or fighting the potential of generous vouchers for urban schoolkids as to slam Republicans for shafting the poor. Really!

But Bush's overriding domestic thrust—cutting taxes for the well-off and shorting everything else save defense—plainly has me undone. Especially because Bush and Karl Rove have been shrewd enough to pretend, successfully, that this is not what Bush is doing. And Democrats are too clueless or gutless or shameless to stop it.

Sometimes you need a little divine intervention. Enron, rightly understood, is obviously the gift of a vengeful Almighty.

It's true there may turn out to be no malfeasance by the White House, and I'll sidestep that in a second. But there's no denying the potential here. Enron is a peerless symbol of truths that conservatives have long purged from acceptable discourse. There's rot at the top. The system is rigged. Free markets don't work by themselves. The little guy needs a break.

And yes—drum roll, please—government can help.

These are lessons citizens need to relearn. And now—with a little coaxing, of course—they'll play out day after day on the news.

Yes, in exploiting this situation I realize I may be yielding to dark impulses that have bloodied humanity since the dawn of time. And rationalizing it as justifiable tit-for-tat after all the bogus garbage Republicans shoveled at Bill Clinton for eight years—a line of thought that, now that you mention it, does have something to recommend it—only takes you down the road that's left the Middle East a vale of tears. What's more, like most people who feel the way I do, I could've just carped on about some aspect of the Enron scam itself and not revealed my deepest feelings.

But I'm human. I know it's weak, but I can't stop myself. I cheer Henry Waxman's subpoenas. I'm stocking up on popcorn for those Lieberman hearings. And when former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart says, "The facts can almost take on a secondary role in these things—for better or worse, this will not ultimately rest on whether someone can prove that someone did something wrong," my first thought is: "Well, let's certainly hope not!"

I'm not proud. But I'm not changing. I'm working it through. I just wanted to share.