Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama, AIG, Give 'Em Hell Harry....and "The Buck Stops Here"



Last night I found myself flipping back and forth from the NCAA Tournament and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno to catch most of President Barack Obama's appearance. I'm of the opinion that in our media driven culture sometimes the best platform people of influence can have are the ones that will gain the largest audience. I have no criticism of the President and his appearance on the show; many critics and members of the minority party do. Every 20 years or so we have a president who has that gift of communication. Probably the best in the last 60 years have been Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan....and now Barack Obama.

Some say that Obama should concentrate on the economy and not be appearing on....to quote a minority party spokesman on MSNBC....a comedy show and filling out NCAA brackets. My answer to this person, and all critics is this...calm and confidence needs to be restored in government and in our economic system. Before a fire can be extinguished it needs to be contained.

As we've seen in appearances by John McCain with David Letterman, and with Jim Cramer with Jon Stewart, sometimes the satirist does make the best interviewer. Jay Leno was respectful of the President, however he never threw Mr Obama any curveballs in his interview. One interesting segment was when Leno said that it seems that the goal of most lenders is to keep borrowers in debt with outrageous lending practices....and the President agreed. Mr. Obama went on to say the culture must change, on Wall Street and with ourselves.

Mr. Obama's interview mentioned how life has changed for him...being president, he said, is like "being on AMERICAN IDOL and everybody is Simon Cowell". Leno asked the President about the bowling alley in the White House. When Mr. Obama said he bowled a 129, and compared his bowling skills to those seen in The Special Olympics, White House spokespersons were called for damage control, saying that the President was in no way disparaging those people with physical and mental challenges.

That was the risk Mr. Obama ran by appearing on a program like THE TONIGHT SHOW....any little off the cuff quip would be magnified, and over analyzed, at a time when such trivia and nonsense would divert his message and program in a time of national crisis. Earlier today on The Pix Morning News from New York comedian D.L. Hughley remarked that the feigned outrage of Mr. Obama's critics was just more proof that the country has no sense of humor. And to a point, I agree with him.

Consider this...what if Harry S. Truman was the President in this age of 24 hour news, CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News. On second thought, maybe Truman WOULD NOT be president had such networks existed during his tenure. He was known to have an afternoon "libation" (ie, a nice shot or two of bourbon) each day. Truman once called out a critic of daughter Margaret's singing, threatening to punch him in the nose, and even giving him a good swift kick in the....well, you know where. He fired the popular General Douglas MacArthur and engaged the nation in a war in Korea that became a bloody stalemate. At a time of Jim Crow, Truman ordered the American military to be desegregated- even though behind closed doors, Truman routinely used the "n-word" when referring to African Americans.

Through it all, Truman told the American people that "the buck stops here". Sixty years later, Barack Obama has said the same thing. It is refreshing to have a chief executive who is willing to accept responsibility and admit mistakes.

He might have to admit mistakes were made very, very soon in the handling of the whole AIG mess.

American International Group, Inc had received $180 billion in taxpayer money since September to keep it from failing and causing a ripple effect that could have brought down the world's economy. The fact that AIG gave out retention bonuses amounting to $165 million was shocking, wrong, and never should have happened. But for the President and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to say they had no knowledge of these bonuses stretches my belief....and I'm one of the "true believers". Throw in Sen. Chris Dodd's (Senate Banking Committee chairman) insertion of a clause into last month's $787 billion stimulus bill allowing such retention bonuses for people at AIG who didn't do their jobs was a bad choice. How long did he think it would take before the American people would catch on?

Back to Harry Truman for a second...he had a faith in the intelligence of the American people. Truman often said it might take awhile for people to figure it out, but they always do. And once again, he was proven right.

The House's hearing on the AIG bonus scandal to reaffirm one issue with me.... that the main job our people in the House and the Senate have is to find ways to keep getting re-elected. Though I'm as outraged as the next guy about the AIG bonuses, what I saw earlier in the week was indeed the villagers with pitchforks forming a lynch mob. It seemed to be a contest for each questioner to be more outraged and angrier than the previous speaker. The only person who came off as reasonable was new chief of AIG Edward Liddy. That was a sad display from our lawmakers. But what was worse came yesterday.

The House voted 328-93 to tax at 90% on bonuses to employees with household incomes of $250,000 at companies who received at least $5 billion in bailout assistance. On the surface it looks like justice...but was it? Do we elect people to Congress to give them the power to enact punitive new laws on those who did nothing legally wrong, but who were ethically challenged?

I hate seeing AIG give out the bonuses to those who helped engineer the economic collapse....but is it Congress's job to act as judge, jury, and executioner regarding situations that they don't like, or find it politically beneficial to do so?

There's not a whole lot to say positively about a mess that just seems to get messier by the hour.

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