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This is another reason why Barack Obama matters so much to progressive change:

"It does offend our values when executives of big financial firms that are struggling pay themselves huge bonuses even as they rely on extraordinary assistance to stay afloat"

More, after the fold.

The Treasury Department on Thursday ordered seven companies that received billions of dollars in government bailouts to halve total compensation for their top executives. But the big reductions will not apply to pay earned before November.


The action will apply to the top executives at Bank of America Corp., American International Group Inc., Citigroup Inc., General Motors, GMAC, Chrysler and Chrysler Financial.


That policy is fine, but what I think matters more is what the President said:

It does offend our values when executives of big financial firms that are struggling pay themselves huge bonuses even as they rely on extraordinary assistance to stay afloat

Our values, our values as Americans.  Unrestrained greed offends our values.  Greed is not good; we value more than mere self interest.  

I wrote about this in August 2008 after Barack Obama's nomination acceptance speech:

The Counter Narrative of Barack Obama: "The Promise of America"

Obama provided a counter narrative of America, a narrative that stands in contradistinction to that of Reagan selfishness.  It's a truly progressive narrative of America in which the history of America is seen as increasing expansions of democracy.  He drew perhaps on his understanding expressed in his Philadelphia "race" speech of "a more perfect union" in articulating this Promise.    

It was summed up in this line:

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

It's an America that is a community and which includes, rather than excludes.  Workers, women, men, blacks, whites, hispanics, asians.  It is a promise based on an expansion of democracy and fairness.

The Counter Narrative of Barack Obama: "The Promise of America"

Our values.

Barack Obama summed up the way many have lived since Reagan:

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own.

Out of work? Tough luck.

No health care?  The market will fix it.

Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Obama DNC Speech

The new way is an older way: the promise of America:

That's the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

The policies are important, but changing the narrative of America from Reagan and Bush's "greed is good" may be even more important that any specific policy.

So when President Barack Obama says this, it's more than just rhetoric.  It's a key part of rebuilding our nation on a foundation based on much more than self interest and economic greed:

"It does offend our values when executives of big financial firms that are struggling pay themselves huge bonuses even as they rely on extraordinary assistance to stay afloat"

Yes, it does offend our values.

Update I: Jeff Feldman in a comment below has an interesting take on this:

Jeff's comment

we need to make an important distinction here (1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:TomP

between shifting to one side within the narrative and changing the narrative.  In this speech, Obama is shifting to one side, but the story is the same.

Here's what I mean:

What he's saying, in so many words, is that it's shameful for Wall St execs to be making 500 times the the average hourly working person's pay per hour, so the remedy should be that they only make 250 times the average hourly working person's pay per hour.  Less shameful.  The narrative is the same, though.  We are still stuck in a story where we have these executives pushing this Lockean notion of a moral society that radiates out in waves from the golden fingers of those who generate money in the markets.  

I want Obama to tell the new story, but he's not quite there--in this speech.

The new narrative would be about how a moral society is built out of the strength of work and unity, which binds us together and creates a kind of prosperity that both ends suffering and endures.  It's not enough to say "I am my brother's keeper."

I'm getting much better at hearing what Obama does in these speeches about the economy, and what I find is that he is good at injecting the language of "values" and "promise," but he stops short of building a new narrative on the foundation of work, unity, and enduring prosperity.

Now, Michelle Obama began to make those kinds of speeches in the campaign and she was instantly taken off the podium. She talked about the importance of not striving to work on Wall St, of not striving for an executive salary, but of reaching for a career based on community building--work, unity, enduring prosperity.  To my knowledge, Michelle doesn't give speeches like that anymore.

Anywho...I'm not dumping on the Big O.  Just clarifying what I hear in these moments. Appreciate the diary.

Follow me: JeffreyFeldman

by Jeffrey Feldman on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 03:00:38 PM PDT

Update II:  An excellent discussion going on in the comments. JayFromPA makes some excellent points, especially that this is a systemic problem built up over decades:

And I think he will get there, but hasn't so far (1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:TomP

because this is a systemic issue, built up over decades.

The tentacles of the "Chase The Money" culture have buried deeply into all areas of the country. Not just wall street, not just the super big businesses, not just the health care, not just the entire military complex that doesn't care that brand new rifles are jamming up in our friends' hands in afghanistan... The head honcho at my job, a privately held mere-regional company, has balls big enough to pontificate about "The socialization of our country" on the front page of the newsletter to complain about healthcare reform.

In a 14,000 billion economy, that the corporate greed reaches down to a company that counts for less than 1 of that 14,000 billion should give everyone some perspective on the size of the problem.

Metaphorically, I believe that O is moving slowly and cautiously around this monster hydra, carefully trying to feed it the necessary medicine without causing it to thrash and flail about. Because you and I, our job stability etc is dependant on O not getting the private leeches to form up into a force squad, platoon, brigade, division and army of the plutocracy.

Look into the methods already used legally to squash unions, recall that it is quite legal for companies to hire or fire based on just about anything not protected by law - and imagine the corporatocracy looking to purge anyone they deem a supporter of their diminished monetary power. It wouldn't be pretty.
by JayFromPA on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:49:34 PM PDT

[ Parent | Reply to This | RecommendHide ]

Originally posted to TomP on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 02:25 PM PDT.

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