When politicians get on their high horses about something, it is almost certain that a considerable amount of horse manure will get spread around.
Such is the case with the giant insurance firm American International Group Inc., which was declared "too big to fail" during the Bush administration.
The Obama administration has denounced bonuses received by top AIG executives. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has been jawboning - apparently with some success - to get AIG to re-negotiate some of the $165 million in bonuses. Even House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who failed to provide proper oversight for some of the entities that got into financial trouble (Frank famously reported in 2003 that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were "fundamentally sound" mortgage lending institutions), went on the "Today" show Monday and ranted about the supposed evils of AIG.
This is all populism, of course, since the amount of money Congress wastes every minute makes whatever earned or unearned money paid to AIG employees pale by comparison. For politicians to complain about misspent tax dollars is like one of those tabloid honeys lamenting the decline in family values.
This play within a play is ultimately not about AIG, corporate aircraft, fancy resorts and partying executives, all of which have been denounced by President Barack Obama and members of his administration, along with many fulminating members of the media. While some people rail against "greed," some of the less affluent operate according to another of the "seven deadly sins," which is envy.
I don't care how much money someone else makes. I simply want the opportunity to make the same, or more, should I choose to.
Just how much this attitude of envy has sunk in with so many was on display last Monday on Rush Limbaugh's radio program - stay with me non-Rush fans because this is an important point no matter who makes it. A man named Nathan called the show, upset about the AIG executives who received "bailouts with taxpayer money."
After making several points and getting nowhere, Rush asked Nathan how much he would like to make. Nathan said, "$250,000." "What's keeping you from earning that much money?" asked Rush.
Nathan replied that he didn't have enough education. Rush asked him his age. Nathan answered, "31." Rush said, "The only thing keeping you from making that much money, or more, is you."
Nathan hung up. He didn't want to hear this. He'd bought the fiction that there are limited amounts of money available and if an AIG employee is making more than he is, Nathan is being deprived of money that could be his.
Limbaugh said that making $250,000 is difficult, but not impossible with the right education, experience and most importantly, persistence.
Who teaches such values today? If you don't succeed, it's someone else's fault, not yours. Others who have succeeded owe it to you to make things "fair." Instead of attending to ways in which our own lives and circumstances might be improved, too many try to bring others down to their level. That never improves conditions for the ones at the bottom, but it makes them feel better, which is the objective of liberal politicians who want to keep people in sufficient misery so they'll continue to win their votes. It apparently doesn't occur to the miserable that they have a ticket out of their circumstances, if they will only climb aboard the right train.
Geithner wants AIG and executives at other companies that receive tax dollars to be paid according to performance. That is a standard most of us would like to see applied to Congress, which enjoys annual pay increases no matter how much incompetence, malfeasance and misfeasance it demonstrates.
If it is a good idea to tie teacher pay to performance (and it is), it is a better idea to link the pay of politicians to performance. Look for that about the time Congress votes for term limits.
E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.