President Obama tells "60 Minutes" he's "not happy" that Wall Street firms are going to be paying out tens of billions of dollars in bonuses. "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of you know, fat cat bankers on Wall Street. Nothing has been more frustrating to me this year than having to salvage a financial system at great expense to taxpayers that was precipitated, that was caused in part by completely irresponsible actions on Wall Street." He goes on, "the people on Wall Street still don't get it. They don't get it. They're still puzzled, why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got ten percent unemployment. Why do you think people might be a little frustrated." As if "fat cats" isn't colorful enough, he goes on to compare the bankers to suicide bombers: "The problem is that unfortunately this is like the guy who has dynamite strapped around him and his finger on the button. You know, you gotta kind of talk him down because all of us could go. If the banking system had collapsed completely, then we really would've been in a great depression. Unemployment might have been double what it is right now. It would've been so massively destructive that any satisfaction we would've gotten from seeing these guys lose their shirts would've been offset by a extraordinary amount of hardship around the country."
The banks certainly did their share to create the financial crisis, but the idea that they "caused the problem" is a bit of an oversimplification. There is plenty of blame to go around -- the regulators, the Federal Reserve, and the politicians all screwed up, too, and Mr. Obama's failure to acknowledge that, while placing all the blame on the bankers, is misleading. The whole episode for us just demonstrates that far from being the success that it's being hailed as, the bailout has damaged the reputation of the American financial industry and is impairing its freedom even after much of the TARP money has been repaid. The reputations of the politicians have been damaged, too, but, just like the bankers, they are going ahead and raising their own pay, with only Reps. Ron Paul (a Republican) and Harry Mitchell (a Democrat) standing in their way. Mr. Mitchell, a second-termer from Arizona, is worth keeping an eye on. Maybe President Obama could even benefit from a chat with him. Here is Mr. Mitchell on the pay question: "I believe that in a democratic, capitalist system, decisions about whether an individual at a private company is making too much money is an issue that is best left to private companies, their shareholders and investors to address – not the federal government."