It's still refreshing to have Barack Obama once again say he'll "take responsibility," this time for the AIG bonus mess. It also happens to be so much easier to say that about a mess you had nothing to do with, because then you can be responsible and outraged at the same time. Talk about rope-a-dope. Still, confusing people is maybe a safer bet than the icy reality of the true scope of scoundrels and their (our) billions.
But after the previous "I screwed up" and a few more "buck stops here," the value of that buck's worth of Harry Trumanizing is going to diminish. We might start getting responsibility fatigue, especially if Mr. Obama doesn't really start fixing things as a result.
I speak from experience.
I took personal responsibility a few weeks ago for the cascading newspaper business but it's still cascading, and I've been out there proselytizing about the public service value of journalism like there's no tomorrow. Oh, right. There may not be.
I mean, taxing these bonuses at some nosebleed rate sounds good, but help me out here. Aren't we bailing the company out? Isn't that our money? Aren't we robbing Peter to pay Peter?
The president's outrage factor on AIG is good, though. It feels like sympatico and a fact-facing commander-in-chief. It's also a best-defense-is-an-offense approach. You're mad?! Well, I'm mad, too!! How can you argue with a guy whose enemy is your enemy? Out the window this afternoon I saw a huge woman with a chihuahua at the bus stop across the street get into a slugging and spitting match with a guy on crutches. It was ugly but the free-flying fury and outrage just served to distract all the other commuters and passersby and likely sucked up any anger oxygen they may have had in the process like a healthy afternoon of Grand Theft Auto at the game arcade.
But you just don't want to get into an outrage contest with the American public right now. As noted here a few short weeks ago, it's been primarily Mr. Obama's political good will and likeability that has tempered a fury that threatens to bust out into the streets. So now the fact that AIG bonus-gatherers have been getting death threats may be a sign that the president's capital is being spent at a faster rate than he might like. And that was before it turned out that he got some of that AIG dough himself.
It could be fearsome when these executives get outed, which several members of Congress said they're going to do. In that moment, the question will go from being "should the government have the right to arbitrarily whup you with a new tax bill as redress" straight to mob rule and tar and feathers.
CNN was asking this morning for the targeted individuals to contact the cable station and "tell us your story." Yeah. Right. I get why CNN would love to out these folks but are the people smart enough to get millions in bonuses from a failed company actually stupid enough to reveal themselves on television? If it were me, I'd have a passport, a good plastic surgeon and a private jet fueled and idling at a remote airstrip. They didn't know it when they signed those bonus deals but are they willing to risk their lives for all that money? Tough call, I'm sure.
While the value of the US dollar is down, thanks in part to the disaster frappe AIG helped create, the cost of money has gone way up for the company's bonus babies. Claiming responsibility and feeling outrage may not be enough.