Someone explain this to me. Enron, the seventh-biggest company in the nation, goes belly-up. It inflates its numbers, lies to its employees, avoids taxes, sets up dubious subsidiaries on tropical islands, then collapses under the weight of its own deceptions, leaving workers and stockholders holding an empty bag — but only after Enron’s top dogs have bailed out.

Every day, there are new revelations of Enron lies and exceptions. Every day there is new talk of cheating, hiding and shredding any document that could be damning.

Enron also gave boatloads to politicians — especially President Bush.

Yet when the vice president is asked to tell us about at least five meetings he had with this dirt-bag company — in forming an energy policy that you and I have to live with — he tells us, in essence, “None of your business.”

And says it “on principle.”

Excuse me. I think the principle is pretty clear. The principle is honesty. It has been violated by Enron. It has been violated by accountants. It has been violated by the stock analysts who pumped up the company.

We don’t need any more violations. What the people of this country need is someone to be straightforward.

And since the vice president serves the people — not the other way around — it’s fair to start with him.

No one is asking for a tape

“There’s been a steady erosion of power in the executive branch,” Dick Cheney said in defending his decision not to release documents about his energy task force meetings.

President Bush agrees. “We are not going to let the ability for us to discuss matters between ourselves become eroded.”

Wait a minute. No one is asking Cheney for a tape of the meetings. No one is asking for a transcript.

All that is being sought by the General Accounting Office — the watchdog arm of Congress — is a list of whom Cheney met, when they met and the subjects discussed.

If there are people to whom a simple where and when are harmful, maybe those people shouldn’t be advising our leaders.

This isn’t about the president or vice president discussing things. This is about one unscrupulous company, and perhaps others, who have access to our top leaders. Why shouldn’t we be suspicious of big businesses that give hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians and then have an influence over our future heating bills, and what shape we leave the planet in for our grandchildren?

Besides, if it’s such an important principle, why did Bush and Cheney release private correspondence from the Clinton administration, including e-mails from outside advisers to Vice President Al Gore, the very thing Cheney says he won’t surrender “on principle.”

It’s not principle if it only applies to you. It’s privilege.

Cheney works for us

Now this whole debate, like so many things today, has been reduced by certain hate mongers to a right versus left issue. It shouldn’t be.

We had the right to ask Richard Nixon for those tapes. We had the right to ask Gore about his phone calls. We had a right to ask Hillary Clinton whom she met with on health care. We apparently had the right to ask Bill Clinton whom he had sex with.

So we have the right to ask Cheney. He works for us. Frankly, I’m surprised at him. He seems a man of integrity, yet he acts as if he can’t understand — when a slimy company that lobs money at the White House gets to suggest policies for the rest of us — why we might want to know.

No one is accusing the White House of wrongdoing with Enron. What’s wrong is this sense of entitlement. What’s wrong is having the White House about to be sued by the GAO. It is unseemly and unnecessary — unless, as some have suggested, Cheney has something to hide.

If so, that’s even more reason to turn it over. Cheney insists he needs secrecy in order to get “unvarnished” advice from the outside.

Sorry, but there’s enough varnish on this story already.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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