Obama: What Did He Know? And When?

I should be heading out this morning for some green beer. But, no. Instead, I’m about to head to the gym (oops, fitness center) to see if I can start to stretch my hamstrings enough to make it through the Pittsburgh half-marathon in May.

Long-distance runners talk about the marathon shuffle. It generally occurs toward the end of a marathon for average runners when your legs essentially freeze and your stride shortens to the point where you are no longer really running, but, well, shuffling along. I’m like that a lot these days, the result of years of running, being north of 60 and just some general inflexibility. So I’ll have to do something about this now — even though I really don’t want to.

I think Obama and team are somewhat in the same running and training mode these days. They need to slow down a little, stretch and figure out how they are going to make it for the long run. They essentially are running a marathon. Not a sprint.

I chewed on this mentally this morning during my five-mile run following the shitstorm that occurred yesterday about the disclosure of another $165 million or so in new bonuses to A.I.G. execs. I said yesterday in this space that the public was getting duped — and it didn’t matter whether the lies and misleading statements were coming from Obama, others in the administration, members of Congress, A.I.G. or all of the above.

To me, this is about more than a financial bailout. It’s about restoring trust, confidence and credibility — and folks, we ain’t winning here and the “new era of responsibility” is off to a shaky start. Here’s why.

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has known about the A.I.G. bonuses for three months — but didn’t say or do anything. Ouch. Here’s from the story:

WASHINGTON — President Obama and his top economic advisers scrambled to calm a nationwide furor on Monday over bonuses paid at the American International Group, even as administration officials acknowledged they had known about the issue for months.

One day after the economic advisers insisted that their hands had been tied by contracts requiring the payments, Mr. Obama ordered the Treasury Department to “pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses” and make the American taxpayers whole.

“In the last six months, A.I.G. has received substantial sums from the U.S. Treasury,” Mr. Obama said. “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?”

But as anger from lawmakers escalated and criticism of the retention bonuses overshadowed other news for a second consecutive day, White House and Treasury officials offered only a general sense of how they would carry out Mr. Obama’s order and few explanations for why they had not acted earlier.

OK, repeat after me: Trust, Confidence, Credibility.

Not yet. Not even close.

So one result is that Obama’s other plans — remember education reform, health care and so on — are pretty much on the back burner now, if they are even still on the stove. Here’s from The Washington Post, “Anger Over Firm Depletes Obama’s Political Capital“:

President Obama’s apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.

Politicians in both parties flocked to express outrage over $165 million in bonuses paid out to executives at the company, demanding answers from the president and swamping yesterday’s rollout of his efforts to spark lending to small businesses.

The populist anger at the executives who ran their firms into the ground is increasingly blowing back on Obama, whom aides yesterday described as having little recourse in the face of legal contracts that guaranteed those bonuses.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, peppered with questions about why the president had not done more to block the bonuses at a company that has received $170 billion in taxpayer funds, struggled for an answer yesterday afternoon. He explained that government lawyers are “looking through contracts to see what can be done to wrest these bonuses from their recipients.”

Ugh, shouldn’t someone have taken a look at these contracts and bonus payments before Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer wrote a single check for one dollar to A.I.G.? Well, duh, yeah. But that would have meant engaging Bush and his Treasury guys who were basically asleep right up to the time when they drove the car into the wall. And far be it from me to criticize anyone these days for taking a well-deserved nap. I digress.

By the way, A.I.G. execs argue that the legal ties for the bonuses go back at least a year. That’s when Hank Paulson and his Goldman Sachs cronies were running the show. And guess what. It turns out that Goldman Sachs received some $13 billion from A.I.G. — and the company wasn’t very forthcoming about disclosing that or where the rest of the $170 some billion in bailout cash has gone.

Did Paulson and cronies do anything wrong? Hope not. And I’m not saying they did. But see what happens when there is no trust — credibility — or confidence. And if we look for a conspiracy behind every tree, we’ll never get out of the forest.

So please — President O, Tim and all the rest: slow down a little, stretch, take a deep breath. It’s a marathon — and you’ll be way ahead of the pack if you can just restore trust, confidence and credibility. Start by telling us what you knew. And when. Much better that way than dealing with one shitstorm after another.

OK. Off to the finess center now.

Then home for my afternoon nap.

Then a couple of double Jamesons with The New York Times, dead-tree edition.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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2 responses to “Obama: What Did He Know? And When?

  1. You are correct, Rob. It is a long marathon, too.
    They need to put some thoughts in their actions and policies.

    Obama and his staff are all still in campaign mode, and not in governing mode. Getting in a catfight with Rush Limbaugh and making jokes on Jay Leno is NOT leadership, and neither worked PR-wise.

    What I’m worried about is that Obama never has been in governance mode. He has been running for president since he came to Washington. As a result of his inexperience, , he is frittering away his political capital and is coming across as scattered and unfocused. Not a good sign.

    • Tim,

      We desperately need leadership now. These are tough issues. No thinking person expects quick, easy solutions. And I agree totally with your comment about political capital. I think Obama took a hit there last week with the AIG debacle.

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