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The Job Hunter

Boeing triumph touches Bond's political Seoul


In another lifetime, I wrote speeches for a moderate-Republican Missouri governor named Kit Bond. Our No. 1 priority, we would say ad nauseam, was a program called Jobs for Missourians.

We were voted out of office.

In the most stunning upset in state history, an utterly mediocre Democrat named Joe Teasdale carried the day in 1976 after having trailed us by 35 points in the polls. His message? Your utility bills are too high. Vote for me and I'll set you free.

Self-interest triumphed over jobs for other people. Sure, there were other factors that hurt us, especially among conservatives. There was Bond's pro-choice position on abortion, his zealous support of the Equal Rights Amendment and his opposition to an "extremist" Republican presidential challenger named Ronald Reagan.

And more. Don't get me started.

But one point was uncontested: Bond was all about jobs. Though the Jobs for Missourians program wasn't really a program, we talked it into being one. It was all-inclusive: No triumph was too small, no economic-development topic too deadly dull, no sign of progress too unrelated to the actual work of state government.

We just wanted to talk jobs. Ultimately we got our wish, because after the election, that's precisely what we had to do for ourselves.

So I couldn't help but wax nostalgic last Friday when Senator Bond enjoyed one of the sweetest victories of his career: Boeing's triumph in the hotly contested sweepstakes to sell $4.4 billion in fighter aircraft to South Korea. Boeing will be delivering 40 F-15 fighters tailored to Korean specifications between 2003 and 2007.

The contract is said to save 1,000 jobs at Boeing and will prop up a total of 3,000 high-wage positions in the St. Louis region when subcontractors are factored in. With the Air Force having soured on the F-15 in favor of higher-tech alternatives made by rival Lockheed Martin -- over Bond's loud objections -- sales to other nations are the only salvation for the old hometown fighter line.

This was Job for Missourians (and Southern Illinoisans) at its best.

Bond fought like a pit bull for this one. He lobbied the South Koreans in Seoul. He lobbied them on Capitol Hill. He pulled every string he has at the White House and throughout the Bush administration.

This was nothing new for the senator. As far back as 1989, in just his third year in the Senate, Bond -- then shilling for Boeing competitor McDonnell Douglas of St. Louis -- was hailed by former South Korean Prime Minister Duck Woo Man as "a great friend of Korea" for his work on trade issues.

Last fall, that great friendship faced a small test -- and a small international firestorm -- on the way to this latest triumph. A fierce battle was raging for the South Korean order -- the French, British and Russians all challenged Boeing -- and the Korean government was moving slowly on its decision.

Frustrated, Bond warned that "very unfortunate things could happen" to U.S.-Korean relations if Boeing didn't receive the order. The Godfather diplomacy didn't sit well with the competition -- or internal critics of the Koreans' autocratic regime -- especially not with 37,000 American troops in the country and our reputation as a military bully.

Not to worry, said a Bond staff member. This wasn't a threat, merely an "observation" about how "folks in Washington" would react to a Boeing rejection. The staff member didn't sound terribly smart, but no one ever said you had to be smart to work on Bond's staff.

Besides, it all turned out well for the hometown in the end, with bitter Dassault Aviation of France left to whine about the whole thing's being rigged in Boeing's favor.

In the end, Bond could proudly say he did it all for the jobs. Jobs for Missourians is the essence of Bond's political Seoul.

And I do mean political. For the first three decades of Bond's career, McDonnell Douglas was among his top political givers, if not his largest. Since the local giant was swallowed up by Boeing, that hasn't changed: Boeing's contributions of $46,200 ranked second to Monsanto among Bond donors in the 1998 Senate race.

What's more, Bond and other Republicans have gone so far as to argue that what's good for Boeing is good for Jim Talent. Last fall, in the wake of Boeing's losing the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter contract, staffers for Bond, Talent and other Missouri Republicans used the occasion of a White House meeting to connect the company's business with Talent's quest to defeat U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.), according to the Post-Dispatch.

I'm afraid this suggests that Bond's passion for job creation has given way to a new No. 1 priority: pork for Missourians. Amped by the South Korean F-15 contract, the election-year Boeing message is: Look at what the Republican administration has done for you lately.

Sorry, but it just doesn't sound as benign as Jobs for Missourians. Two weeks ago, a conservative nonpartisan national group known as Citizens Against Government Waste criticized Bond while ranking Missouri sixth in pork-barrel federal spending since 1995.

He loved it.

"We use the report as an index of how successful Sen. Bond has been in the appropriations process," spokesman Ernie Blazar said. "Sen. Bond always said pork is a mighty fine diet for Missouri, low in fat and high in jobs."

Sorry, Ernie, but he didn't always say that. In fact, he never said that when I was drafting those speeches.

Then again, maybe if we'd talked about pork instead of jobs, we would have won the 1976 election. Then I might not have come home to St. Louis and started the Riverfront Times in 1977.

Of course, it did create a few jobs for Missourians.

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