First, there was Senator Charles Grassley's not-so-funny suggestion that the heads of A.I.G. should commit public suicide, and then in yesterday's Senate hearing Edward Liddy, the Chairman of A.I.G. detailed the numerous death threats the employees of the company had been getting, some of them quite horrific. Senator Barney Frank asked for the names of those employees getting bonuses, which Liddy offered if there could be assurances of confidentiality which Frank denied; and this morning on the Bill Press show, angry listeners called in over and over demanding those names be made public.
Press, never my favorite talk show host, made the most reasonable counter argument, that the callers anger was somewhat misdirected and that revealing the names would do no one any good and the employees much harm, a sentiment with which I am in complete agreement.
After all, what are we, the American public going to do? Go to their houses and burn something on their lawns? Tar and feather them? Harass their children? Make prank phone calls?
These men and women took bonuses, yes. But are they criminals? No. And what good does it do to name names? Doesn't just that phrase "naming names" strike fear in the hearts of those of us who remember its other use not that long ago? Are our memories so short that we really don't get it?
The employees of A.I.G. may be lazy, immoral, or just plain greedy. But the people who deserve our wrath are not unknown to us.
Hank Paulson is very known to us. He and his boss, our former President George W. Bush are first and foremost the two who rushed us into the largest amount of bailout money to A.I.G. in the first place, when, panicked, they panicked Congress, and by extrapolation, us, into bailing out the giant corporation on the fly -- with no conditions and no assurances. We handed them a gift and that's that.
When you give someone a gift they can do whatever the hell they want with it.
Later, we gave them another gift. And then another.
Our outrage is misplaced. Belated. After the fact. Our outrage should be at Paulson, Bush, Bernanke, the Congress, Geithner, and now, I am afraid, also at President Obama.
But not at the poor shlubs at A.I.G. who got the bonuses. A witch hunt and an attempt to out the people who took those bonuses is a waste of time and energy and diverts attention from the real problem. Why are we handing money to companies without accounting for where that money goes and to whom it goes in the first place?. Billions of dollars went to A.I.G. who then diverted some millions of it some of its employees. But what about the billions that went to now out of business banks and foreign investment companies? And what about a company who was making those kinds of deals in the first place when it was not its place to be doing that sort of thing? A company that not only put its own future in jeopardy but the future of dozens of other companies as well as the financial well being of an entire country?
Senator Joseph McCarthy almost brought our country down searching for a Red Menace that didn't exist. Let's not divert ourselves looking for little bad guys in the suburbs when we know where the real villians reside.