At the end of Bill Clinton’s second term I wrote the President a letter. I told him how I had supported him over the previous 8 years but that his personal shortcomings had made it very difficult. Anytime I argued policy with the opposition, “all they had to do was bring up your moral failings and my arguments were lost.”
I got a letter back from President Clinton and he agreed with me. He apologized and even stated that he didn’t expect to receive forgiveness from his constituents, just that he hoped to. He said that his mission was to seek counsel, to ask God for forgiveness and above all else ask for his wife and daughter to someday forgive him. It may have been one of thousands of identical letters, but the message was contrite and felt sincere.
A couple of years later I was a restaurant owner in Los Angeles. The “energy crisis” in California, which has since been revealed as a fraudulent manipulation of the market by deregulation policies put into play by Governor Pete Wilson and exploited by Enron and Dick Cheney (CEO of Halliburton at the time), put me, and thousands of other small businesses into a difficult situation.
During the Summer of 2001 my energy costs had gone up by a factor of nearly 10. California was being unjustly bilked to the tune of 50 billion dollars so that energy brokers (like Enron) could whistle all the way to the bank. Dick Cheney’s famous words “Sounds like free enterprise to me” made his compliance clear (he has taken “executive privilege” so as not to testify in the investigation).
George W Bush had just become President and he addressed the entrepreneurial spirit of America by asking young Americans to invest and to start new businesses, and to look to his administration as a “partner” in this enterprise.
So….I wrote to President Bush.
My letter stated that I was a young American who had answered his call, but that the energy crisis (I didn’t have to tell him that it was market manipulation destroying small businesses) had driven up my costs to the point where I couldn’t keep my restaurant running while paying those bills and making payroll taxes at the same time.
If government could “partner” as he said, I would be able to pay my taxes, in full. I only needed two months without penalties to recover. I wrote: “The additional financial burden takes away my ability to stay open.”
My business generated a cash flow of nearly a million dollars annually and clearly that was a useful contribution from one man’s venture to the economy.
I didn’t get a letter back from the White House, but I did get one from the IRS. My letter had been forwarded and the notice I received was terse and to the point. It said: “Pay your taxes or close your business.”
That was the reality of our “partnership.”
I am a lifelong Democrat but I learned from my parents to stay open minded and to be guided by truth more than party rhetoric, but at the core of my political philosophy will always be tenets of liberalism: civil liberties, respect, compassion, tolerance and human rights. Clinton had flaws that betrayed a trust he was responsible to uphold, but I believe that compassion was at the center of his Presidency.
I can forgive those who ask for my forgiveness. President Bush, on the other hand, said what he needed to say to gain the trust of the people, but when reality cast light on his words, that’s all they were; empty rhetoric to give people what they wanted to hear. There is a long history with politicians that say what people want to hear (lower taxes, pro- small business, smaller government) to get elected, but then betray those promises to pandering to corporate interests that ultimately lead to cronyism and self-serving agendas.
Bush, Cheney and Wilson, never asked anyone to forgive them for what they allowed to happen, even after fraudulent practices by brokers and suppliers were clearly revealed. I think its because some people can justify fraud so long as they come out ahead.
I keep both letters next to each other in my office as a reminder.