No one is a fan of the big banks that took our money in a time of crisis and then turned around once things were getting better for them and passed out huge bonuses. Even if they paid the so-called TARP money back in full, did they pay the outrageous interest rates that the credit card companies charge the rest of us?
So it probably seems like an easy lay-up for the Obama administration to hammer big banks by requiring that they make substantial repayments over time. After all, the government saved their rear ends when a crisis of severe magnitude developed seemingly overnight.
And make no mistake: Those on Wall Street set to give or receive these bonuses have not the slightest clue what the rest of America thinks, nor do they give a damn. They look down their noses at the rest of us as if we were the hired help -- not the customer.
All of that said, I have one big problem with President Obama's solution. OK, so we take the money from the banks and give it back to the government -- the same government that plans to tax us to death anyway. In case anyone hasn't noticed, the presses are on fire printing money to keep up with the current and anticipated levels of spending we are seeing out of Washington.
I'd like to offer Obama an alternative solution. Force the banks to give the money back to the public. It's our money, and we deserve it. If not that, Washington should at least change the current policies that have banks terrified to make loans to anyone for anything. And while they're at it, put some real teeth into the supposedly wonderful "loan modification" program that has led to virtually no real permanent modifications of home loans.
With the president's current proposal, all we will see are giant uncaring dysfunctional institutions giving money to an even less caring and more dysfunctional institution -- the federal government.
At some point this madness of using taxes or financial penalties as a way to force everyone in the nation to toe the administration's and Congress' line must come to an end. Readers of this column will recall that it was only weeks ago that I predicted that a then-50 percent approval rating for the president would dip into the mid-40s by spring. Well, I was wrong. It only took about a month or so.
By throwing down the gauntlet with banks, the president is hitting on a very populist concept that might well lift his approval ratings, if only temporarily. But just like with the rescue of the banks, or the stimulus legislation, or health care reform, once the public comes to realize that the proposed "punishment" of the big banks won't put a plug nickel into anyone's pocket and won't change the stingy nature of the loan departments or lower the fees people are charged by their stockbrokers, they will quickly sour on the concept.
For the president to have a prayer of gaining and maintaining strong polling numbers, he must get away from the Ivy League policy wonks and take a crash course in real-life in America. I don't blame the president for the fact that he has really never run a business and has no clue what life is like for those of us stuck on Main Street. The public has no one to blame but themselves for their decision to choose such a leader, and the GOP has no one to blame but themselves for having paved the way for Obama's ascendance with their wasted years of leadership in the last decade.
We are where we are and have to make the best of it. But the president must learn that the money he and Congress spend comes out of our wallets. Getting it back from the banks only to see it go down this rat hole of endless programs that are getting us nowhere fast may play well to the audience in the second scene of Act One of the Obama presidency. But by the final act -- if dollars continue to be traded between big business and big government -- the audience will be running for the door. Can you say Jimmy Carter?