The AIG recipients of $165 million of taxpayers’ largesse, er … protection pay for not driving our economy entirely to its knees – a million here, a billion there, and a trillion everywhere, after a while it’s real money – have inflamed the torch-and-pitchfork brigades to the boiling point with a little help from Stephen Colbert (below) and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.
Apparently a student of the art of Japanese ritual suicide, Seppuku, the usually dull Senator Grassley was unusually entertaining with this colorful language:
"I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, 'I'm sorry,' and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide."
Followed by this:
“It’s irresponsible for coporations to give bonuses at this time when they’re still sucking the tit of the taxpayer.”
The deceptively bland Senator Grassley, who once got into a shoving match with John McCain, may be a walking advertisement for campaign finance reform or one-term senators. He did not retract his words, rather, dismissed them as “rhetoric.” Way to go, Chuck!
If, as the President said, “Slim” Tim Geithner has “made all the right moves with a difficult hand,” then Slim’s cards are held very close to his vest. Lavishing praise on his embattled Treasury Secretary, President Obama noted that he’s had more challenges than any Treasury Secretary since Alexander Hamilton. Perhaps, and yet … based on current performance, chances are not good that Geithner will get his face on a U.S. bill; that is, unless all the money being printed now turns into worthless “funny” money.
On the flip side, “Slim” Tim can be fairly confident that Vice President Biden, mercurial though he may be, will not challenge him to a duel. Whew …
Treasury’s reluctance to come clean on AIG’s bailout is understandable. It was, after all, triggered by a letter from the French finance minister to Bush Treasury Secretary Paulson, warning that European banks were so invested with AIG that they’d collapse in a domino downfall of the European financial system should AIG go down.
The FRENCH! Oh the Humanity!
Time was when the French were good friends and allies. Lafayette was like a son to Gen. Washington. Jefferson and Franklin succumbed to the charms of Paris. Wily old Ben had his way with many a female courtesan, and Jefferson fell in love in that idyllic city. But for today’s modern-day Tories -- the Republicans -- France represents everything our country shouldn’t be: effete, promiscuous, unclean, and socialist. O.M.G.!
Here’s the cold, hard reality:
The French finance minister was correct. Owing to its global tentacles, AIG is too big to fail, all populism, demagoguery, and hypocrisy aside. The results for our economy would be catastrophic.
Seizing upon understandable popular outrage over the AIG bonuses, suddenly “populist” Republicans have cynically set their sights on two targets: Tim Geithner and Democratic Senator Chris Dodd. First, because the not-so-hidden agenda of know nothing Republicans, bereft of ideas and alternatives, is to follow GOP Party Boss Rush Limbaugh’s prescription: “I hope he (President Obama) fails.” What better way to do this than to try to take down the popular president’s point man on the economy?
Second, Senator Dodd, who is facing a tough reelection campaign in 2010 as chairman of the powerful Senate Banking Committee, is a prime target for Republicans. Fortunately for the Democratic Party, the RNC is in the grasping hands of a bumbling idiot named Michael Steele. And so the RNC this week issued a talking points memo trying to pin the AIG bonus debacle on Sen. Dodd because he acceded to administration requests to remove language from the stimulus bill that would have taxed bonuses from corporations receiving bailout funds, effectively preventing the AIG bonus debacle.
In retrospect, it would appear as if the Obama economic team’s insistence on this exception was politically tone-deaf, to say the least. Their policy, not political, arguments were cogent and, wouldn’t you know it, grown-up: Taxing corporate contracts in this way could be unconstitutional, with lawsuits that could cost taxpayers more, and, more importantly, threaten the legality of the entire stimulus bill. The Rush Limbaugh Republicans would like nothing more than to derail the President’s stimulus package by tying it up in the courts.
Senator Dodd, fortunately for us, is a grown-up. Given these concerns expressed by the President’s top economic advisers, he pulled the language from the bill and is taking his medicine, with bad publicity and charges of flip-flopping, that I predict he will overcome.
In the meantime, the very same amendment, which had been introduced by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Olympia Snowe, and passed with Senator Dodd’s approval, is being reintroduced as a standalone bill in the Senate. Senator Wyden beamed at this fortuitous development with his best all’s well that ends well TV face.
A similar measure just passed the House with a Republican vote split down the middle. Will anyone hazard a guess as to how many Republicans will vote for the Wyden-Snowe bill, the very same measure they are fist-pounding hysterically about now? Checkmate.
Somewhere Machiavelli must be smiling. Somewhere Rham Emanuel is smiling. And President Obama, well sir, as you swing through California, you’ve outdone the best legislative manipulator of all. Somewhere, President Lyndon Baines Johnson must be smiling too, and nodding his approval.