Congressional hearings are meant to ascertain facts so as to aid Congress in their oversight and legislative functions. They are not the place to render and pronounce verdicts of criminal or unethical conduct. The officers of Goldman Sachs indeed may be scoundrels and guilty of unethical practices or even turn out to be criminals, but those decisions should be reserved for the appropriate forum. Maureen Dowd (NYTimes) likens the finance hearings to those in Godfather II. They are also reminiscent of Woody Allen in the movie The Front, although no witness in these hearings used the same profanity in addressing the committee---that would have raised the profanity tally to two for the day. Unfortunately, the hearings could also be reminiscent of the rush to judgment in the Duke lacrosse players' matter or the abuses of earlier congressional hearings, now condemned in retrospect.
This is not meant to be a defense of Goldman Sachs, its officers, or Wall Street in general. It is a plea to reserve judgment, preserve decorum and avoid abuses of power. Witnesses before congressional committees are at a distinct disadvantage. They should not have to sit there and be abused and maligned by senators or House members. The leading questions are bad enough, but the condemning statements are beyond the pale and the dignity of the Committee. Non-responsiveness should be dealt with by persistence, not persecution.
On the bright side, this was a rare bipartisan effort in piling-on. The Democrats certainly were the prime spear-hurlers, but there was a great irony in Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, declaring that more transparency is needed "so we don't end up hurting the little guys out there on Main Street" at a time when the Republicans would not allow the bill for financial reform to reach the Senate floor for debate. Apparently "the little guys" were not quite that important.
It is also important to remember that although top executives may have been guilty of wrongdoing, there are more than 30,000 innocent employees of Goldman Sachs who could be harmed by this relentless pounding, as happened in the case of Arthur Andersen when thousands of persons not responsible for any wrongdoing suffered a worldwide loss of jobs. Senators have enormous power and the podium to exercise it; that power should be exercised with restraint and dignity and consideration and respect for the rights of those who appear before them.
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