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White House Does Damage Control on Obama's Support for Banker Bonuses

1:53 PM, Feb 10, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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First, it was the spending freeze that sent economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman into a tantrum, saying that Obama "liquidated himself" by "embrac[ing] and validat[ing] the Republican world-view."

Today it's Obama's assertion that he doesn't "begrudge" big bonuses for two banking execs at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs because, hey, he knows those guys to be "savvy," and there are a lot of baseball players make more than that, anyway.

The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is “an extraordinary amount of money” for Main Street, “there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well.”

“I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.”

Obama went even further, according to Bloomberg, and "sought to combat perceptions that his administration is anti-business and trumpeted the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies."

Cue Krugman, who calls the interview "clueless."

Oh. My. God.

First of all, to my knowledge, irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn’t brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses...

The point is that these bank executives are not free agents who are earning big bucks in fair competition; they run companies that are essentially wards of the state.

And at the very least, you would think that Obama would understand the importance of acknowledging public anger over what’s happening.

The White House is already pushing back on the Bloomberg write-up of his 30-minute interview with him:

Administration aides insisted, in email exchanges with the Huffington Post, that the quote was largely overplayed. The story, they say, made it appear as if the president didn't mind massive compensation packages when he was simply stating that he didn't fault anyone for his or her personal or professional success. Moreover, they added, the president has made similar remarks many times before without getting the critical reception he received on Wednesday morning.

"The president has said countless times, as he did in the interview, that he doesn't 'begrudge' the success of Americans, but he also expressed 'shock' at the size of bonuses and made clear that there are a number of steps that need to be taken to change the culture of Wall Street," spokesperson Jen Psaki told the Huffington Post. "[That is] a sentiment he has consistently expressed since long before he took office."

The explanation doesn't make much sense given that Obama seemed to single out two specific executives, saying he wan't upset about their bonuses because he knows them to be "savvy." I bet the guys at AIG sure do wish they knew the president personally right about now.

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