A SOMEWHAT NUANCED RESPONSE TO AN EXCESSIVELY NUANCED STATEMENT
I agree with Greg Sargent that what President Obama said about big Wall Street bonuses is being somewhat misconstrued -- he didn't say (as first reported by Bloomberg News) that he doesn't begrudge the bonuses of Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon specifically; he said he doesn't "begrudge people success or wealth" in general. He did say (indirectly) that he's "shocked" by Blankfein's big bonus. And he made some populist noises as well. (The transcript is below.)
Which is not "clueless" in the way Paul Krugman describes it ... but it's still quite clueless.
Look, obviously Obama is trying to thread the needle here. But why bother? No one the right is going to give him credit for this -- they're all too invested in the Obama-as-socialist meme. (Without that, what would Glenn Beck have to talk about every day on radio and TV?) Here's National Review, in response to the original Bloomberg report, accusing him of making the statement because his party is losing Wall Street donations, and calling the "praise of the free market ... about as bland and uncontroversial as it gets" -- then slamming him for releasing the full transcript ("the White House is already starting to walk [the remarks] back"). No love there.
Every teabagger is going to ignore the positive words about capitalism -- and yet every liberal and every moderate swing voter is going to hear just what Krugman heard: a clueless president saying nice words about the enemy. (And you can't blame them for feeling that way -- even reading the full version of the remarks, I feel that way.)
And do you know how this will play out? In upcoming weeks and moths, moderate swing voters will go to backyard barbecues with teabaggers. The teabaggers will hold forth on how awful Obama is -- not on this, but on other issues. And the criticism will hit fertile ground even though the moderates hated today's remarks because bankers were praised and the teabaggers hated today's remarks because capitalists weren't praised enough. There go a few more independents to the R column in November.
Hey, Mr. President: As the saying goes, there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.
QUESTION: Let's talk bonuses for a minute: Lloyd Blankfein, $9 million; Jamie Dimon, $17 million. Now, granted, those were in stock and less than what some had expected. But are those numbers okay?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, first of all, I know both those guys. They're very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That's part of the free market system. I do think that the compensation packages that we’ve seen over the last decade at least have not matched up always to performance. I think that shareholders oftentimes have not had any significant say in the pay structures for CEOs.
QUESTION: Seventeen million dollars is a lot for Main Street to stomach.
THE PRESIDENT: Listen, $17 million is an extraordinary amount of money. Of course, there are some baseball players who are making more than that who don’t get to the World Series either. So I'm shocked by that as well. I guess the main principle we want to promote is a simple principle of "say on pay," that shareholders have a chance to actually scrutinize what CEOs are getting paid. And I think that serves as a restraint and helps align performance with pay.
The other thing we do think is the more that pay comes in the form of stock that requires proven performance over a certain period of time as opposed to quarterly earnings is a fairer way of measuring CEOs' success and ultimately will make the performance of American businesses better.