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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush's Tender Spot

When George W. Bush speaks about corporate misbehavior and self-dealing by business insiders, he perches on a platform much weaker than the one from which he launched the war on terrorism. Instead of the sense of resolve and determination he showed after Sept. 11, the president is still struggling to prove that his past business dealings have not made him a product of the very system he now denounces. The president dismisses criticism of his record as political. But if he expects to restore confidence in corporate America, he needs to get his own house in order first.

On Monday the president attempted to explain why the methods he employed as an oil company executive years ago are different from the insider trading and creative accounting now undermining the credibility of corporate America.

He made the disastrous mistake of arguing that in his case, accounting rules were "not always black and white." For a president whose foreign policy and entire political outlook are based on the idea that the world can indeed be divided into good and bad, black and white, nothing could have sounded worse.

The president needs to speak much more frankly about the money he made in selling his faltering oil company to Harken Energy of Texas -- and later selling Harken shares shortly before the company's stock price collapsed. Harken also engaged in questionable bookkeeping practices while Bush served on its board.

While the Security and Exchange Commission has found no illegalities, he would be a more persuasive advocate of reform if he found a way to acknowledge that this deal, the foundation of his personal fortune, is not a shining example of the stern code of responsibility he now demands that executives follow.

The most sensitive spot in Bush's resume has always been the strong suspicion that his success as a businessman was due in the main to his family connections. That becomes relevant if it means that the president places too much emphasis on personal loyalty and team spirit. It is not enough for Bush to declare that someone in his administration is a good man. He needs to show that he understands that good men sometimes do bad things when they are entrusted with power, and that it is the government's job to keep them accountable.

Bush has repeatedly failed to make tough personnel decisions about people he regards as part of the team. It is inexcusable that Tom White, a former Enron executive, is still holding his job as army secretary. And any clear-sighted administration would realize that Harvey Pitt, a former lawyer for the accounting industry, is not the right advocate as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission for tough new accounting standards long opposed by the industry.

The administration was overly permissive when it came to demanding that Cabinet members follow the rules for divesting themselves of their personal stock holdings. And Bush sees nothing wrong with the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force still refuses to release the names of the businessmen who advised the administration on its energy policy. Now Cheney's former company, Halliburton, is being investigated by the S.E.C. for practices carried out while he was in charge. The public needs some frank explanations, but Cheney has declined to comment.

It's far too late for Bush to go back and demonstrate that he could have been a successful businessman even if his name were George Walker. What we need is a president who sets an example of the standards he wants corporate America to adopt. If he can't do that, his critics will have grounds to poke at that tender spot in his personal history again and again.

This comment first appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.