The cuts in executive pay imposed by the Obama administration are "political payback to silence critics of its financial reform proposals," a professor at Columbia Business School, Charles Calomiris, writes in today's Financial Times.
Agree or disagree with Mr. Calomiris's claim about the pay tsar, it is possible to discern a broader trend of the Obama administration trying to silence or discredit its critics, from the attacks on Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to the attempt to prevent Humana from communicating with its customers about the health care overhaul (an administration attempt that even a New York Times editorial called "ham-handed" and "a sorry attempt to stifle debate") to the Obama administration trotting out top aides on Sunday talk shows to warn bank lobbyists to stop blocking financial industry "reform."
Conservatives have objected loudly to all this, but as Nat Hentoff observed in his 1992 book "Free Speech for Me--But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other" – Republicans do similar things, or try to, when they are in power. As I noted in connection with the du Pont seaweed subsidy, it can't be stressed enough that the issues in Washington aren't so much Mr. Bush or Mr. Obama or Democrat or Republican. Both parties and administrations are complicit and participating. How many of those upset about the Obama administration's demonization of Fox News were among those complaining when Vice President Cheney banned the New York Times from his airplane? And while the Obama administration wants to restrict the speech of bankers who got federal funds and of health insurers who get federal funds, there is a long history of Republicans trying to restrict the lobbying activities of non-profit groups that get federal funds, beginning with Circular A-122 propounded by the Reagan administration's Office of Management and Budget, continuing through the Istook Amendment put forth by Rep. Ernest Istook in 1995, and including, as recently as this year, amendments by Rep. Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, and Senator DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, which would have prohibited groups engaged in political or legislative advocacy from receiving national-service money. Politicians of both parties try to de-fund or shut up their opponents.
Just because the right does it, too, doesn't make it any better when the Obama administration does it, but it's worth mentioning as a corrective to the idea that the Obama administration is engaging in something entirely novel. It's true that we don't recall any Republican administration ever imposing a tsar to set pay levels at government-funded non-profits the way the Obama administration is doing with banks, AIG, and GM. When the Republican Nixon administration imposed its wage controls, they were across the entire economy, not just 100 top-paid employees at each of seven companies. One can debate whether that was better, because everyone was affected equally, or worse, because more people were affected.