Sad to say, but with each passing day President Obama looks less like an agent of change and more like the latest installment in a never-ending series of Washington powerbrokers. This is doubly disappointing, since if there is a silver lining to the current crisis, it is that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally change the way things are done. So far, all indications are that the Obama Administration lacks the courage and integrity to deliver upon the hopes they raised during the course of the campaign.
Case in point is the omnibus spending bill that the President signed in early March. Despite promising repeatedly to veto any budget with earmarks, Obama signed this spending bill containing over 8,000 earmarks. Granted, it would be much more difficult to cobble together a congressional majority without the sweeteners that these earmarks represent, but this is precisely the kind of situation that tests the mettle of a leader. Does he have the strength to hold the line, or will he cave in to the status quo when push comes to shove? Obama could have stood up to the corrupt leaders of his own party (Pelosi, Reid, Frank, etc.) and refused to sign the bill, but he didn’t.
Another example of failing to lead is this week’s populist pandering over AIG bonuses. Yes, it is infuriating for the American public to see executives being rewarded after the enormous amounts of public money that have been pumped into their companies. That being said, the bonuses in question are microscopic in comparison with the real story. In the context of the trillions of dollars the government has already used to prop up the financial system, $165 million is completely insignificant. By turning it into a public firestorm, our leaders are cynically exploiting the public’s inability to comprehend the magnitude of the amounts of money currently being thrown around. $165 million, $20 billion, $1.5 trillion, what’s the difference? They’re all staggeringly large numbers. That being said, there’s a very big difference between a hundred million and a hundred billion, and our leaders are counting on our inability to tell the difference.
Of the $185 billion that has thus far been pumped into AIG, over $12 billion has gone to Goldman Sachs, the company once led by former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. The President and the leaders in Congress have nothing to say about this, while they make an enormous stink about bonuses that represent less than 1% of that amount. This is a deliberate and cynical error of omission and emphasis. By making a spectacle out of a relatively insignificant issue, our leaders are hoping we’ll be distracted enough that we won’t notice the hundreds of billions that are being allocated according to a process that is both opaque and riddled with conflicts of interest. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…