Aneurin Bevan, the late British Labor Party leader, did not try to conceal his contempt for what he judged to be his country's unaggressive press corps. Once, when asked about proposed measures that could raise the threat of press censorship, Bevan responded: "You don't need to muzzle sheep."
That same putdown could today be used to characterize the outrageously submissive deference shown by both opposition Democrats and most of the Washington press corps toward the First Family of President George Bush. Politically, Bush has been granted a nonstick coating that makes Ronald Reagan's vaunted Teflon look like Velcro by comparison.
Here are the facts. Neil Bush, 34, President and Mrs. Bush's third son, is under investigation for possible conflicts of interest as a director of the Silverado Savings and Loan of Denver, which one year after its own auditors found it insolvent and just weeks after the 1988 presidential election, was closed by federal authorities, at a projected cost to American taxpayers of $1 billion.
No one is blaming the younger Mr. Bush for the collapse of Silverado. But Neil Bush is being asked to explain a couple of truly unusual relationships he had with two Colorado businessmen, both of whom first invested in Neil Bush's own company and then later defaulted on millions of dollars of loans from Silverado.
Take Neil Bush's unorthodox relationship with developer Ken Good. In 1984 Good made a loan of $100,000 to Neil Bush to invest in a high-risk venture. The terms were that Neil Bush did not have to repay the $100,000 to Ken Good unless the investment was successful. That's right, this may have been the first completed loan in financial history in which the creditor defaulted.
In testimony before the House Banking Committee, Neil Bush was recently asked about this special relationship with Good. In a masterpiece of understatement, the president's son responded, "I know it sounds a little fishy, but I've heard this happen before."
Not in my neighborhood you haven't, Mr. Bush. There, such transfers are usually made in cash inside an unmarked No. 10 business envelope. In fact, the fishy-sounding Good-Bush transaction may qualify as a gratuity, as gravy, as grease, or worse. But it was not by anybody's definition a loan.
Even though he was required to disclose his relationship with Good and failed to do so, Neil Bush said he abstained from voting, as a director, on loans Good sought from Silverado. But the House committee released a letter written by Neil Bush, as director, to the Silverado chairman requesting a $900,000 line of credit for Ken Good, who had earlier bought a 25 percent interest in Neil Bush's own oil and gas exploration company for $10,000. That $10,000 made Good a lot bigger investor in Neil Bush's company than Neil Bush himself, who put up just $100.
But Good was a small fish compared to Denver real estate developer William Walters who had purchased for $150,000 a 6.25 percent share of Neil Bush's company. You figure it out.
As a director of Silverado, Neil Bush did not disclose his relationship with Walters. Nor did Neil Bush abstain from voting to approve $106 million of loans to Walters, all of which went into default.
Nor was Bill Walters just a borrower, either. Walters was a lender, too, through the Cherry Creek National Bank, which Walters controlled. Among those to whom Bill Walters' bank made loans was Neil Bush, who was able to borrow $1.75 million from Cherry Creek National.
About that $106 million in defaulted loans: the bill for all that and the rest of Silverado's billion-dollar tab will be picked up by the working men and women of America who pay their bills, raise their families and pay their taxes -- and who not surprisingly never had anyone say: Here's a hundred grand. Pay me back only if your ship comes in; otherwise forget it.
What truly is surprising is the failure of the political press and the political opposition to confront the Bush involvement in the savings and loan scandal. Would George Bush be given the same Teflon treatment if his name were Carter or Nixon or Cuomo or Reagan?
Does anyone remember the public pummeling Billy Carter took for openly accepting $5,000 to appear at a stock car race? Howard Hughes' loan to Richard Nixon's brother, Donald, became a permanent campaign issue. Yet no presidential relative before has been personally involved in a failed enterprise that left American families as co-signers liable for a billion-dollar default.
Maybe it's Andover or Yale, or Greenwich or Kennebunkport that exempts the Bushes from ordinary criticism. Maybe it's just the moral superiority of the Mayflower Compact descendants as heard in the words of Massachusetts Republican William Weld, who, when asked where his 1990 gubernatorial campaign got the money for a large TV buy, told The Boston Globe: "We don't get money. We have money."