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Aftermath of Executive Sabotage
May 1, 2001

James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

During his final days in office, Bill Clinton riddled the governmental landscape with a record number of executive orders, proclamations and other official instruments containing his imperial signature.

Clinton's actions were suspect at the time, and it was thought by some that the activities in which he engaged may not have been done for the noble sentiments that his staff claimed. Was the administration laying the groundwork for sabotage of the new president? (See Executive Sabotage) Ralph Nader implied that it was in his recent characterization of Bill Clinton laying a "trap for George W. Bush.

If the volley of orders and regulations were meant to be a trap, efforts were well coordinated. Leaders of the Democratic Party utilized their friends in the press, and their soft money stash, to mount an attack using the thousands of pages of last-minute government regulations that had streamed from Bill Clinton,s pen.

The ex-president supplied the DNC with plenty of ammunition for its current hail of propaganda. The marquee feature used by Democratic consultants in spin, as well as in attack ads, is the now-famous "arsenic in drinking water" line.

Senator Barbara Boxer laid the groundwork for the 100-day campaign by telling her constituents President Bush had "declared war" on the environment. Margaret Carlson provided an assist when she wrote, "everyone gets the danger from arsenic" ­ it's Murder, She Wrote territory. Eric Olsen of the National Resources Defense Council added, "Many will die from arsenic-related cancers and other diseases but George Bush apparently doesn't care. Maureen Dowd mused about the president and vice president drinking scotch while growling, "Real men can drink twice that much arsenic." Michael Kinsley praised Bush's final decision, but wrote that the administration was "in the politically untenable position of wanting Americans to drink more arsenic."

In a prime example of demagoguery, Tom Daschle made this phrase a classic refrain: "Under FDR, all we had to fear was fear itself. Now we have to fear arsenic in our drinking water."

There is a slight problem with Daschle's credibility. Last October, he voted down an amendment that would have established the arsenic rule, legislatively, by January 1, 2001. Daschle and 17 other Democratic senators basically voted to put off any rules on arsenic until at least the end of June 2001. House Democrats appeared to agree with Bush, as more of them voted for the delay of arsenic standards than did Republicans.

Hypocrisy is leaking out all over. Shouldn't members of the press have asked the obvious question? If arsenic in the water is such a serious problem, then why did Bill Clinton wait until the last moment to sign an executive order to address the situation?

Not only was the issue tabled for eight years, the resident environmental guru, Albert Gore, slighted the subject during the campaign. Could it be because arsenic is not a genuine problem? Perhaps this, too, is a case of executive vandalism.

The new arsenic level that was created by executive order during the Clinton administration will not go into effect until 2006. President Bush is attempting to take a second look at the executive decisions of a leader whose judgments toward the end of his tenure have been shown to be questionable. In addition, there is considerable debate on what constitutes an acceptable arsenic level. It is more than reasonable to conduct a review of hastily signed executive orders, pardons, regulations and designations of national monuments. It is obligatory for a responsible successor. The president should be encouraged to move in the direction of constitutional integrity.

The heavy dose of political poison cannot go untreated. It will not be easy to undo distortions of the doctrine of separation of powers, straighten out agencies at the executive branch or neutralize an atmosphere of disinformation. Then again, truthful discourse is a powerful antidote. Even for arsenic.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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