The president's have-you-no-shame offensive against Wall Street is, at best, sputtering.
AIG and the other financial wizards who ran the economy into the ground are still using bailout dollars to pay bonuses to upper management and President Obama's chief financial player, Larry Summers, says there is nothing the administration can do.
That's a shame.
Summers, who also served as President Clinton's secretary of the Treasury, should tell his new boss that shame no longer slows the American rush to feather one's own nest. Summers, especially, should recognize that most of the nation took to heart President Clinton's bully pulpit legacy: “It's not what you know, or even who you know. It's what you can get away with.”
Our society simply doesn't have any concept of shame anymore. The examples are almost endless — check tonight's TV listings — but consider one from the right, President Bush's flight deck arrival for the mission-accomplished moment a few years back. There is little doubt the former president joined the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s in order to ensure he wasn't snapped up by the Vietnam meat grinder. If he had any shame, he'd never have donned a flight suit 30 years later to present himself as a brave leader, especially considering his father's campaign had ridiculed an opponent with little foreign policy or military experience for wearing an Army tanker's helmet in 1988.
A few years later, not long after New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was attacked for blaming the victim because he pointed out that single, teenage mothers were a growing problem that might bankrupt the nation, morally and financially, I was startled to hear the founder of an organization fighting black-on-black crime say that the first step was ostracizing young mothers by throwing them out of high school.
“They wear that baby on their hip like a trophy today,” the founder said. “And everyone wants a trophy.”
Bill Cosby, meanwhile, was ostracized about the time you got into the Senate, Mr. President, for suggesting that the problem with absentee fathers wasn't society but the lack of shame of those boys spreading sperm like it was bailout money. Today, we have one sports star trying to decrease child support to the seven different mothers of his offspring and another behind on payments to eight women for his 10 children.
Even in our latest election, your opponents, one of whom wrote a book titled “Courage Matters,” didn't have the courage to stand up to American voters and tell us the truth about our gasoline addiction, saying instead that we should be rebated our meager 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax. And don't forget how you allowed your minions to belittle a governor and former mayor, not to mention a close friend, as having too little executive experience for the No. 2 job.
The future for shame doesn't look bright, either. According to one recent study, one in five American teenagers have texted or posted nude photos of themselves on their cell phones and the Internet. And 33 percent of nation's under-18 set has received or viewed those naked pictures.
The bottom line is your shame offensive will fail, Mr. President. Please, therefore, consider a couple ideas for dealing with Wall Street greed.
Solution One: Take the CIA agents who gave us extraordinary rendition and put them in charge of monitoring corporate bonuses. They, not particularly well paid by Wall Street standards, no doubt desire retribution for the collapse of their retirement portfolios.
Certainly, the CIA guys can creatively develop new methods to help bankers relate to shame. Call John Yoo, who wrote President Bush's legal opinions supporting the military's subtorture practices, out of academia to find a few legal loopholes in case financiers can somehow stand the rigors of Guantanamo, which can now put to good use.
Solution Two: set up a reality show based upon how long the Wall Streeter's family can live like Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield in the movie “Sounder.” No TV, no iPhone, no Bloomingdales, no Lexus, no Blackberry, no glass in the windows and no indoor plumbing. The longer they live without whining the higher the bonus. Main Street Americans who have lost their jobs would judge and vote on what constitutes whining.
Even if Wall Streeters earn the taxpayer dollars they're already getting from the bailout, broadcasting this kind of reality show internationally would aid our foreign policy. When many across the planet see Americans in film and television shows complaining nonstop about what to people in other countries appears to be nirvana, they can easily learn to hate us and certainly think we have no shame. Many throughout the world live, still, without indoor plumbing and a “Wall Street Bonus Reality Show” will help foreigners conclude that we are, at least, trying to understand their lives.
Mr. President, both of these solutions will help Americans return to a concept of shame, something you'll likely need in the future. S
Randy Salzman is a former journalism teacher at Virginia Union University and a transportation researcher who lives in Charlottesville.
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