Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Political Cheap Shots

Being pissed at the obscene bonuses paid to the AIG financial services employees who drove the company and country into the ditch is easy, cheap, and comes naturally—including to me. But it's time to get real.

While riding the wave of populist outrage may be the most natural thing to do—especially if you happen to be a politician—do you really want the Obama administration to spend its exceedingly scarce time and resources chasing over-paid executives and traders? There will be a time for that, but now is not that time.

The furor has quickly become political, and cheap-shot sniping is already underway. Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, said of Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner, "I don't know if he should resign over this. He works for the president of the United States. I can tell you that this is just another example of where he seems to be out of the loop." Said Republican Senator Kit Bond: "This is another example, I regret to say, of the [Treasury] Secretary's failed leadership."

Which loop, exactly, is Senator Shelby worried that the Secretary is out of? There are only so many loops one can be in; triage and prioritization are the order of the day.

By all accounts, keeping the country's (and indeed, the world's) financial system from completely melting down is a maddeningly complex mission that at the moment sometimes seems beyond the abilities of even the most talented mere mortals. Never mind that the current administration, on the job for barely two months, suffers the usual organizational and staffing difficulties that confront every new administration. Are you actually surprised that Secretary Geitner wasn't wasting time peering into the bonus contracts of companies the government is bailing out? Do you really want him to?

All hands at Treasury are presently occupied (or at least would be were it not for distracting political imperatives) fighting larger and more important fires. If it seems they're making much of this up as they go, it's beause they are. There is no off-the-shelf plan or playbook here; crisis mode is the only mode we presently have available to us. In such a chaotic environment, there will unavoidably be mistakes, waste, and undeserved gains. Deal with it.

Copyright (C) 2009 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


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