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Romney, Santorum and Goldman Sachs: Their Values Are the Same

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Everyone is buzzing -- and the Goldman Sachs PR team is desperately spinning -- about the powerhouse op-ed in the New York Times this morning by the (as of this morning, apparently) former Goldman Sachs exec Greg Smith, who resigned in protest of their "toxic and destructive" environment. It is a painful reminder of how out-of-control Goldman has become, but this isn't just about one company or one set of immoral executives; it's about the Wall Street system and its allies in the political and media world.

Stories like Smith's, along with the Mack Truck-load of books and articles written since the financial panic of 2008 about Wall Street greed and corruption, are a reminder of the breakdown of basic morality in the entire culture and structure of Wall Street, and of the destruction and potential destruction this lack of ethics causes the rest of our economy. According to virtually all the reporting, writing and research we have seen in the last four years, this kind of short-term greed and willful corruption -- and in many cases, outright law breaking -- has been baked into the Wall Street system, so that the honest players like Smith are systematically discouraged, punished economically, and driven from the companies. Only the people obsessed with short-term greed remain. The events of 2008 demonstrated in way too dramatic a fashion the incredible harm that does to the entire economy.

You have to be amused by the massive irony of all this, as these pillars of our society and their close allies in government and the media go on and on about what is moral and what is not. Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, with its $75 trillion in toxic assets and its terrible track record of heartless foreclosures, talks of the moral hazard of writing down mortgage debt for homeowners. One of Wall Street's biggest defenders in the media is Rush Limbaugh, who calls young women sluts and prostitutes when they disagree with him. Goldman Sachs' closest political ally, Mitt Romney, wants to shut down Planned Parenthood because they are apparently so immoral.

The irony is deep because the conservatives who are such fans of Wall Street and so worshipful of free markets say that they are the ones who are for traditional morality. The problem is that the kind of greed they defend gets its morality from a very untraditional place: Ayn Rand, who argued that selfishness was not only a virtue, but really the only one that mattered, and that generosity was immoral because it helped society's leeches. When a company like Goldman encourages its executives to, as Smith put it, "callously talk about ripping their clients off," they are simply following Rand's twisted version of a morality based on greed and selfishness.

When Republicans like Romney, Santorum, Limbaugh or GOP budget author Paul Ryan (who openly sings Rand's praises and speaks of her as his biggest influence) speak of morality and values, they seem to never talk of things like companies not cheating people, or fairness, or kindness, or generosity. I suspect that is because they agree with Rand that those are false values that don't actually matter, but maybe the not cheating/fairness set of values is somewhere on their list but not high enough to mention or think about as much as, say, stopping people having sex.

The other rich irony here is that the man these guys claim to worship as their savior, Jesus of Nazareth, cared a whole lot more about the fairness and kindness stuff. He despised greed and wealthy people taking advantage of the poor, and preached over and over about generosity, kindness, helping others less fortunate, and that whole set of values. The sex thing, not so much. Jesus never condemned homosexuality even though it was common in ancient Greek and Roman culture, and never mentioned abortion even though it was a very common practice in that era. He mentioned adultery a few times, mostly in a long list of other sins to avoid, and told the authorities about to stone a woman to death for committing adultery that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. He openly socialized with prostitutes. This was not a man obsessed with sexual sins.

These modern day followers of his sure seem to be, though. Wall Street is brazenly ripping off its clients and tanking our entire economy, and the Romney/Santorum/Limbaugh team has no time to castigate them, but they sure seem to have all the time in the world to talk about the sinfulness of gays and abortion and birth control.

Maybe we should try to reorient their thinking about morality. My organization, American Family Voices, has put up a petition calling on Mitt Romney to call on Lloyd Blankfein to step down as CEO of Goldman Sachs. I think Romney should be the one to lead the charge on this because Goldman is his single largest source of money, and if I were Romney, I would want to do everything I could to make clear that my values were not identical to Blankfein's values.

It is amazing we live in a culture that allows the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the country cheat their clients and the public at large with impunity, and that their closest political allies aren't held to account as well. Help us shine a spotlight on this by signing our petition.

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