I’ve watched with substantial unease and alarm as our government and media have whipped up public anger and created a frenzied mob bent on the utter ruin of a segment of their fellow citizens. That the government’s efforts are intended to divert that angry public’s attention away from its own blunders, missteps and corruption is undeniable, but does not diminish its effectiveness. The AIG debacle has dominated the news cycle for over a week now and culminated in the passage by the House of an ad hoc, 90% tax on the contractually-obligated bonuses. President Obama said he opposed that bill as unconstitutional last night in a 60 Minutes interview, which would be politically courageous and laudable in the eyes of conservatives if he didn’t then hedge by saying he believes he could support the alternative Senate bill, which is being crafted as we speak much to the same effect. As the differences between the legislation are unclear at this point, we can only wait until the Senate deigns it necessary to share the details with the unwashed masses that they have dispatched to stand outside AIG HQ with torches and pitchforks.
I understand the anger about the bonuses. I am angry and perplexed. From a business standpoint it is fiscally irresponsible and downright suicidal to reward key members of a department within your organization that is in all likelihood responsible for your collapse with exorbitant bonuses. The situation is made all the more outrageous due to the fact that we, the taxpayers, own nearly 80% of AIG and that our money was used to pay these clowns. But I’ve already discussed our AIG-related anger, its uses and abuses last week (see
Thomas Paine wrote, “An Avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” I find it sadly ironic that the same politicians who have clamored for the closure of Guantanamo Bay on civil liberties grounds are now leading the charge to target American citizens for extra-constitutional punishment and a rhetorical tarring and feathering. It is our country at its ugliest, when it gnashes its teeth and hurls rocks in frenzied, ignorant hatred while those who are meant to stay their hand supply the ammunition and stand by goading them on. For those of you who are angry at AIG and support the House’s 90% tax, which even President Obama regards as unconstitutional (for what that’s worth), let the final words of Thomas Paine’s quote ring in your ears: “…if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach unto himself.” In other words, when the political winds change it may be you who faces the public stoning.