Earlier this week, we saw President Obama feel compelled to go before the cameras and effectively throw his entire economic team under the bus, saying that - contrary to the declarations of Wall Street sycophants Larry Summers and Tim Geithner - something could indeed be done to stop AIG's egregious bonuses. The shockingly public fissure between the president and his economic team raised the very real prospect of an economic credibility gap, whereby one part of an administration is saying something very different from another part of an administration. Unfortunately, that seems to be happening again, as a schism erupts between President Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
Yesterday, Emanuel told reporters that the White House sees the giving away of $160 million taxpayer dollars as a mere annoyance - an unimportant "distraction":
As angry as the president is at the news about A.I.G., which he learned Thursday, Mr. Emanuel said, "his main priority is getting the financial system stabilized, and he believes this is a big distraction in that effort."
Obama, recognizing the idiocy of his top aide saying that burning $160 million in taxpayer money is a mere "distraction,"* today held a surprise press conference to try to clean up the mess. He said that far from a mere "distraction," the AIG bonuses are worthy cause for national outrage:
The president said he is sympathetic to the intense outrage over bonuses for executives of a company that has been propped up by billions of dollars in federal aid, and he shares the fury of taxpayers. "I don't want to quell anger," Obama said. "I think people are right to be angry. I'm angry."
So once again, we see a president who is very much in touch with the American public having to clean up for the crew of Washington insiders in his administration who keep expressing a "let them eat cake" attitude towards that same American public. That's not "Team of Rivals" brilliance or strategery, that's just mixed messages, and as I said before, it could open up a serious economic credibility gap for the president - a credibility gap that might make people ask A) Who the hell is in charge? B) Since when did was it OK for government officials to tell us that $160 million was a mere "distraction"? B) Why can't the president keep his people on message? and C) Why does the president have these insiders speaking for him and working for him in the first place?
* As a sidenote: Think about how far down the rabbit hole we really are. In a political culture that asks us to be outraged by $200,000 earmarks, we're supposed to see $160 million as a mere "distraction." Indeed, I would just add to Chris's earlier post by saying that the $160 million bonuses aren't just important because they highlight the bigger bailouts - they are also important unto themselves simply because $160 million is a shit-ton of money, regardless of what percentage it is of anything else. But I guess that's what handing over 8 trillion taxpayer dollars to the financial industry does to our political discourse - it can make us lose a bit of perspective on just how much taxpayer money we're really talking about here.