Suddenly populist Iowa Senator Charles Grassley certainly stirred things up with his suggestion that AIG executives accept responsibility for the collapse of the insurance giant by resigning or committing ritual suicide.
The senior Republican senator was asked during a Monday interview on an Iowa radio station, WMT in Cedar Rapids, to comment on the news that American International Group, which has collected roughly $170 billion in federal bailout money is now arranging to distribute roughly $165 million in bonuses for various and sundry hangers on around the corporate offices.
“I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed,” responded Grassley. “But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they’d follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.”
Grassley seemed to suggest a preference for the latter option when he added: “And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology.”
The Iowan’s proposal brought to mind an old anarchist t-shirt, which featured a gothic cemetery scene and the slogan: “We have found a new home for the rich.”
But, while the senator’s notion of burying CEOs and their associates might have some popular appeal these days, it’s an unappealing “fix” — on humanitarian and political grounds.
Better to follow the calmer counsel of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to expand the congressional review of how the $700 billion in Wall Street bailout funds are being spent to be expanded to investigate how the financial crisis started in the first place.
Put the crooks, er, executives, under oath and grill them before the television cameras. Then write a set of regulations designed to assure that their kind never again roams free on Wall Street.
That’s what happened during the Great Depression, when Congress called bankers and brokers – including J.P. Morgan himself — before investigative committees and forced them to come clean. Members of the House and Senate used the information gathered during those hearings to establish the rules and regulations that protected Americans until the insiders gave enough campaign contributions and hired enough lobbyists to get the restrictions removed.
Speaking of AIG contributions and lobbying, perhaps that would be a good place to begin the inquiry. Yes, we should want to know about who is getting bonuses. But we should also want to know who in Congress accepted campaign contributions from the bonus recipients.
True, that could be a bit embarrassing.
For instance, Senator Grassley accepted roughly $28,000 from AIG in recent election cycles. So, too, did other AIG critics, including President Obama and Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut.
We really would not want to let any suicides prevent Congress from getting the details on those contributions– and how they influenced regulatory decisions — would we?