Save Geithner and Steele!
OK, so Tim Geithner let AIG have its bonuses and Michael Steele knocked over a few sacred cows. But critics already want them fired? They've only been on the job a few weeks. Mark McKinnon blasts Washington's new culture of hair trigger assassins.
Off with their heads! Or fire them, anyway. It’s the latest craze in Washington and among the political and media elite.
If you don’t like someone’s policies, jump right past any legitimate critique and call for them to be fired. Doesn’t matter that they’ve been in their jobs less than a few months. Doesn’t matter that they haven’t done anything wrong, haven’t abused their offices, no acts of malfeasance, no criminal, moral, or ethical transgressions. They should simply be fired for, um, doing their jobs, but not doing them precisely in the manner or fashion desired by the newly appointed prosecutors.
I say fire the executives who are so selfish they refuse to give up bonuses they don’t deserve as a reasonable gesture for the misery they helped create.
We’ve become a nation of hair-trigger assassins. And the media is largely to blame for elevating the firing squads to a level of prominence and respectability.
Take the modern day Sacco and Vanzetti: Tim Geithner and Michael Steele.
Steele, who was elected chairman by members of the Republican National Committee, had the gall to suggest that Rush Limbaugh was an entertainer. Shocking.
For this felony transgression, Dr. Ada Fisher, North Carolina’s national committeewoman, said Steele is “eroding confidence” in the GOP and that members of his transition team should encourage him to step aside. Oh, and by the way, Fisher supported Steele’s opponent in the race for the chairmanship. Is this newsworthy? Of course not. It’s revenge. But the media immediately sniffed out what is crack cocaine for them: conflict.
Doesn’t matter if it’s newsworthy. Doesn’t matter if the charges are meritorious or legitimate. What matters to the media is simply that there is conflict and, therefore, a story worthy of putting on the air. And so for several days, Dr. Fisher washed across television sets across America. The media served her selfish interests brilliantly.
Of course, Steele’s job is a walk in the park compared to Tim Geithner’s. Senator Lindsey Graham said it best: If you want to really serve your country, join the Marines or the US Treasury.
The Treasury secretary has the toughest job in the world. He's been on the job less than two months. Doesn’t even have a full staff yet. And yet Jim Cramer and the like want his head—the same Jim Cramer who told everyone not to worry about Bear Stearns. So, why does Cramer still have his job?
Before you join the dump-Geithner chorus, watch his congressional testimony or his thoughtful appearance on Charlie Rose. His short tenure so far may be far from perfect, but he is clearly well-qualified for the job.
Every morning, he has to wake up to a new crisis. Or to people like AIG Chairman Edward M. Liddy telling him that despite all the federal largesse from taxpayers, his company is going to pass out millions in bonuses, thank you very much.
So AIG, recipient of $170 billion (we have to keep reminding ourselves that’s billions with a “b”), feels obligated to pay $165 million in bonuses to executives who helped the company claw its way to the bottom.
AIG argues that the bonuses that were promised before the meltdown cannot be legally canceled. Here’s an idea: Screw the law. Refuse the bonuses. And shine a spotlight on anyone with the balls to sue you. They might win the case, but they’d be the subject of considerable public ridicule and wouldn’t find employment anywhere in America.
And then there’s the old standby rationale about the fear of losing talent. This from Liddy: “We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest to lead and staff the AIG businesses—which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers—if employers believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the US Treasury.”
OK. Since the best and the brightest caused this spectacular shipwreck, maybe we’d be better off with merely the pretty good? How much worse could they do than the geniuses that put us in this mess? And looking around, it seems like there is an available pool of talent, especially for the financial sector. Hell, go to Monster.com and you can find better talent, who won’t soak the taxpayers during a time of crisis.
So I say fire the executives who are so selfish they refuse to give up bonuses they don’t deserve as a reasonable gesture for the misery they helped create. And let’s cut some slack for the servants of democracy who are doing their jobs as best they can under impossible circumstances and not getting rich at taxpayers' expense.
As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chairman of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today’s rich internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.