Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank played Madame Defarge on Capitol Hill. AIG's recently installed CEO, Edward Liddy, agreed to testify before a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, which Frank chairs. Liddy was actually a poor choice for scapegoat as he has only been on the job since September. Additionally, he is serving as a dollar-a-year man hoping to rescue the company and our financial system from a downward spiral.
These facts slowed the momentum of some committee members. But most plowed ahead. Here's Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York: "There's a tidal wave of rage throughout America right now, and it's building up and it's expressing itself at this latest outrage, which is really just the tip of the iceberg. And that rage is because the taxpayer knows that they are the ultimate sucker on the list of who pays for all of the greed that has been going on in the marketplace for years and years."
There was a lot more along those lines, but the most sinister move came from Frank. He demanded that Liddy reveal the names of the 73 executives who had received retention bonuses. Liddy said he would do so if he could receive a promise of confidentiality. Frank refused and threatened to subpoena the names. Liddy said if subpoenaed he would obey the law, but he then read to the committee some of the death threats his company had been getting over the past few days. Some threats spoke of hanging the executives with piano wire, others of finding where their kids went to school.
That is the sort of ugliness and criminality that Frank is willing tacitly to encourage by demanding the names. And for what? The bonuses amounted to just one tenth of 1 percent of the AIG bailout (to say nothing of the stimulus bill and the gargantuan budget bill Congress and the president are hanging around our necks). If politicians want to metaphorically flay away at evil businessmen, well, that's regrettable. But when they cross the line into encouraging the targeting of actual individuals, they are no longer "honorable gentlemen," but leaders of a mob.