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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/19/09

Barack Obama and the Altar of Greed

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Message David Michael Green
Barack Obama is dumber than a bag of hammers.

I never thought I’d say that about the guy. I thought he would probably disappoint me with many of his policies. I thought he would probably fail to be bold enough for his times. I thought he might miss opportunities to do great things because of his seeming desire to be Mr. Rogers, complete with cardigan. But I never expected him to be really dumb.

But if you’re willing to risk the entirety of a potentially great presidency on making sure that a handful of already wealthy sociopaths who got rich destroying the global economy are not denied massive taxpayer-funded bonuses to keep them in jobs they’ve already completely mishandled, despite the fact that many of them took the money and left the job anyhow – if that’s you, and you’re the new president of the United States with a load of challenges and lots of public good will solidly behind you – well, then, you’re dumber than a bag of hammers.

Like I said, I never thought I’d say that about Barack Obama. But then I never thought I’d witness such inane stupidity (or, worse – is it venality?) from the man.

If you think that I’m exaggerating when I say that Obama may be betting his entire promising presidency by taking the wrong side in this AIG scandal, think again. His presidency rises and falls on essentially one question: Is he doing everything he can to fix the economy? In order to fix the economy, given the astonishing mess he’s inherited, he is going to continue to need unprecedented forbearance from the public and Congress so as to take unprecedented steps. People are already freaking out at what has been done and what has been spent, and we’re only just starting the rescue, with all its enormous costs. The Republicans, who made this mess, are going to try to block Obama at every turn. The president needs to convince the public to trust him and follow him, if he is going to win the legislation necessary fix the economy.

But if people see that Obama is using their hard-earned tax money to reward the predatory parasites at AIG, even after they’ve wrecked everything in sight, how is he ever going to get public support for spending another trillion bucks to repair the economy? And if he can’t get the tools necessary to do the job, how can he ever expect it to get fixed? And if it doesn’t get fixed, how can he expect to have a successful presidency?

He can’t, and he won’t. And, thus, it is no exaggeration to say that this vibrant and well-liked president, who carries the hopes and aspirations of a nation on his shoulders with a robust foundation of good will to match, is potentially giving away everything in order to make sure that a band of corporate pirates keep their stolen taxpayer money. And doing that, ladies and gentlemen, is as dumb as... Well, you know.

Or maybe even a lot dumber still. Month after month of headlines detailing the latest scandal, many of them involving not just the theft of people’s savings but crashing the global economy as well, and you begin to wonder if there’s any bottom to the barrel of fiscal depravity and governmental enabling. Obama is now charting new paths in that direction. Just the concept that AIG executives who brought down the roof should get anything besides pink slips and orange jumpsuits is sickening, let alone that they should get bonuses.

But wait, it gets better. Then we’re told that the bonuses are necessary because only these criminals can undo the mess they’ve created. So they’re paid millions to stay. As if those who know how to wreck a global economy also know how to fix it. As if these are the only folks in the world who have these skills.

Okay, well, fine then. At least they have to earn these ‘retention bonuses’, right? Nah. That would so responsible. Turns out that a bunch of them took the money supposedly provided as incentives for them to stay and then split anyhow. One guy grabbed $4.6 million in retention bonus cash from the taxpayers, funneled through AIG, then promptly unretained himself. More than fifty others did the same, eleven of whom took over a million bucks to stay. Except they didn’t.

Then we have Team Obama telling us that these are legal contracts that cannot be violated. As knowledgeable legal commentators have pointed out, however, that seems highly unlikely for a whole slew of reasons. There are all sorts of legitimate mechanisms recognized by the law through which contractual agreements can be bypassed in order to serve higher societal purposes.

But even apart from all that, let’s remember that these are bonuses! Isn’t the very nature of a bonus – as opposed to salary – the idea of contingency on performance? Do the contracts say, “We’ll reduce you bonus down to eight figures if you destroy the company, and a mere several million bucks if you take down the global economy”? If not, why weren’t these people paid 23 cents in order to fulfill a legal obligation and told to go hide in Argentina or something? And count their blessings? Instead, over seventy employees of the AIG London-based unit that brought down the company and the rest of us to boot have become millionaires.

Why did Democrats in Congress creep in late at night and remove language from the bailout bill which would have prevented this noxious use of taxpayer money? Why did Obama sign such a bill? Is there really no depredation that greed cannot induce anymore? Is there really no politician in America who actually thinks these crimes are crimes anymore?

Of course, it’s not exactly shocking news when Washington politicians are found to be in bed with the corrupt captains of American finance. Indeed, if there’s one thing that Democrats and Republicans can most readily agree upon, surely it’s how cool it is to whore for Wall Street.

Still, I can’t help being a little disappointed (some will no doubt say a lot naive) observing the degree to which Obama has joined this crowd. Admittedly, I don’t get invited to the smoke-filled rooms where political deals are cut between politicians and the people who buy them, so maybe I have no clue what I’m talking about. But it strikes me that Obama never had to be just another corporate Democrat, like Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer.

The Obama campaign was a political and, especially, a financial juggernaut, the likes of which we’ve never seen, from either party. He was practically printing campaign dollars. They were pouring in from so many ordinary contributors, in such a high volume, that he literally walked away from tens of millions of free federal funding he could have had simply by opting for government financing of his campaign. But he actually pulled in way more by foregoing the matching funds and just opening up the floodgates for a public anxious to throw money at Change They Could Believe In.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
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