International Papers

Too Little, Too Early

Foreign pundits were bearish about President Bush’s Wall Street speech earlier this week. The London Times’ foreign editor declared it “fine, until he got to the detail,” while the Guardian felt it “ducked more of the obligations of leadership than it shouldered.” Toronto’s Globe and Mail said the first MBA president “fell short of providing the vision and leadership necessary to overcome the greatest crisis in capitalism of our time.”

Canada’s National Post said Bush had hit the “panic button” prematurely and that “by supporting wholesale and rapid regulatory change, he is feeding the counsels of fear as opposed to those of confidence.” The op-ed declared, “What we have seen in North America to date has been a rush to judgment, a bit of a feeding frenzy and, true to form, a White House too quick to react.” Rather than undermining market confidence by denouncing the scandals now, Hugh Segal said Bush should have waited until after legal processes had run their course before announcing reforms. “To do so now is to shape public policy on the basis of rumour, fear, innuendo and panic.”

Like most commentaries, Britain’s Independent acknowledged that Bush had a tough task on his hands, given his background and the Republican Party’s association with big business. It asked, “[D]oes an administration that has gone out of its way to coddle big business and that has preached deregulation at every turn really have its heart in the policies it proclaims? … [T]he notion of Mr Bush and Mr Cheney leading a crusade against corporate misbehaviour has for many people about the same credibility as the Empress Messalina taking vows of chastity.” The editorial contrasted Bush’s actions with trust-busting Theodore Roosevelt, whose famous dictum was “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” concluding, “Bush’s approach will be the reverse: to speak loudly but carry a very small stick.”

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post gloated: “Asians can be forgiven a wry smile following … Bush’s dressing down of corporate America for sins ranging from malfeasance, obscene greed and outright fraud. Having been on the receiving end of countless similar lectures from US luminaries a little schadenfreude is understandable.” The editorial declared Bush’s claim that “rogue” executives are responsible for the current wave of corporate scandals “humbug” and instead blamed the corporate climate of the 1990s, when “America became hard-wired for obscene wealth transfers to senior executives through accounting changes and professional conflicts of interest that became integral to its model of shareholder capitalism.” It said the link between performance and pay must be re-established before trust is restored.