Washington Parody: Small Government, Ira Style

Distributed by Copley News Service.

During his first threeyears in office Bill Clinton governed like a traditional liberal.The results were not pretty, but no matter. Since then thepresident has exhibited the ideological flexibility that has madehim such a successful politician.

Thus, there was little surprise at his latestannouncement — strangely ignored by the media — of a new commission,headed by Ira Magaziner, the millionaire big thinker in an administrationfull of millionaires, if not big thinkers. (Bob Dole responded bysaying that, if elected, he would keep the panel, but would head it,in order to demonstrate leadership.)

The commission, Expanding Economic Opportunityand Doing Other Wonderful Things in an Era of Small Government,is tasked with crafting new federal education programs. Explainedthe president: “Obviously government isn’t doing enough. SoI’m asking Ira Magaziner to find new and even more expensive ways forthe federal government to help the economy and education.”

The commission includes as members severaladministration officials, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt,D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and an assortment of liberal academics.The first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, will serve as honorarytable (“more important than a mere chair,” one aideexplains).

With the election approaching, Magaziner hadbeen telling friends that he expected a “high‐​level economic postin the next administration.” Although perceived as fallingout of the administration’s inner‐​circle when his 1,342-pagehealth care plan crashed and burned, he publicly expresses noregrets over his losing effort: “The public just wasn’tready,” he opines, “and the plan was too complicated.We should have simply nationalized everything.”

Privately, friends say, he most resents hiseclipse by Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “If this projectgoes well, I think he hopes to take over the Commerce or Educationdepartments — or maybe both at once — and push that short‐​stuffReich off of his pedestal,” said one White House aide.

Magaziner says he’s excited by the project:“We have to decide what kind of world we want to livein.” He says he sees no limits for education “so longas we get over this outmoded suspicion of government.”

Thus, he says he plans on turning to “thebest and the brightest” across America to help the study. Colleaguessay that phone calls have already gone out to hundreds, maybeeven thousands, of people to serve on task forces. Among thetopics of study include school uniforms (a presidentialimperative), empowering children politically (a favorite of panelmember Marian Wright Edelman), student jobs (an apparent grab forReich’s territory), drug policy (Marion Barry’s credentials weretoo good to pass up), the Romanian experience (reportedly suggestedby economic adviser Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a long‐​time admirer of executeddictator Nicolae Ceaucescu’s economic policies), Medicare (Rep.Gephardt insisted on the opportunity to highlight Republican“extremism”), and “a whole lot more,” inMagaziner’s words.

Magaziner refuses to discuss the commission’sinternal operations. In fact, he allowed, he planned to staff theworking groups with government officials “so we don’t haveto open the meetings to the public.” His job “is todraft the plan,” he explained, while “the public’s jobis to accept it.” Staff members were equally closed-mouthed:“We don’t want any more trouble” said one, alluding toMagaziner’s near miss with a perjury charge over his statementsabout the composition of the health care task force.

Although Hillary Clinton testified beforeCongress on the health care proposal, aides say that is unlikely thistime.

“We’re just hoping to keep her out ofjail, to tell you the truth,” says one. “Anyway, noneof us believes her on anything, so why should we expect anyoneelse to do so?”

For this reason Magaziner — one of the fewClinton officials so far without his personal special prosecutor ‑is expected to take the lead on selling the proposals to thepublic.

“If I can talk to them, I’m sure I canconvince them,” he says he told the president. But Reich,among others, has reportedly been lobbying to keep Magaziner out ofthe limelight. “If only we could get him on one of (EnergySecretary) Hazel O’Leary’s trips. He could study education inAcapulco while her aides investigated beachfront solar power andwe wouldn’t hear from him for months,” explained one Reich aide.

The president dismissed reports of staffinfighting: “Members of my administration get along great,just like Hillary and me.” He says he is especially excitedabout the task force: “Ira is so good at creatively feeling people’spain.”

Magaziner says that the administration will beready to push the commission’s proposals through Congress. Ifopposition develops, he explains, “The president canflip‐​flop. Or simply lie. Those tactics have worked fine sofar.” But Magaziner says he doesn’t think it will come tothat, at least not “if I have a chance to explain the plandirectly to the people.”

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He served as a special assistant to President Reagan.