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Shields & Gerson on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - October 16, 2009

JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is off tonight.

Mark, is it -- on the same subject, is it fair to say that a lot of average Americans are really upset about the huge profits and the huge compensation that has already begun to return to Wall Street? Do they deserve to be upset?

MARK SHIELDS: They deserve to be upset.

Wall Street has earned the rage and the fury of ordinary Americans. Just two firms, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, last year lost $54 billion. American taxpayers, firefighters and nurses, and teachers and hairdressers came up with the money. They -- they knew that it was important to keep them in business -- came up with $55 billion.

As they are losing $54 billion and borrowing $55 billion from the American people to keep their doors open, they award $9 billion in bonuses to their own people. Is that a sense of outrage? Is it justified, at that same time, Jim, that 14,000 Americans every day are losing their health insurance, when 5.5. million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, and we can't even get the Congress, the Senate in this case, to extend unemployment benefits to these folks, with 424 Americans every hour having their homes repossessed?

Yes, there is a sense of rage, and it is totally justified.

JIM LEHRER: Totally justified, Michael?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it's certainly there. You know, and it's hard to argue with that sort of attitude. And many Americans feel it, left, right and center.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

MICHAEL GERSON: This is not a particularly big ideological issue. People feel like there is a different set of rules for the wealthy and for the middle class. I think that's true.

It -- the fact is that a lot of executive compensation on Wall Street and other places is done through bonuses and stock options. It's not done with salaries. That's the way they compete for workers and, you know, keep people in jobs. That's the way Wall Street works.

And -- you know, and a lot of Americans are angry, but a significant number are happy when they see the market over 10000, which is also helping some of these firms as well. And, you know -- and I think, if you look at the facts, the compensation strategies of banks in the research doesn't really correlate very well with the performance of the banks. It's not the key factor.

Greed is not the main factor here, but it is certainly a cause for a lot of resentment.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. And do you see that resentment waning, or is it going to continue to be there until this whole thing, or -- I don't mean the whole thing, but much of the economy recovers? As long as the people are still hurting out there, they are going to see these headline, they're going to see these reports and get upset.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, there is a diversion right now, or a division, in America between those who are benefiting from the fact that the economy at its highest levels is coming back to some extent.

But unemployment is very high. You know, business startups are very low. The real economy out there is lagging behind our -- you know, the economy at the heights. And I think that is going to cause some tensions.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that, too, do you not, Mark? I mean, it's -- while, in some strata of the economy, nothing is changing, except it is either remaining flat or it's negative, while, at the top, it's doing very well.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. It's socialism for the rich.

I mean, obviously, the people having their houses repossessed are not too big to fail, or the people losing their jobs. We're laying off teachers in this country. I mean, and 75 years ago, Franklin Roosevelt said the measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

And, I mean, I just think this thing has turned totally upside down. And I think there is a political rage. I think Michael is right that it's not left, right or center. I just think it -- we came to the rescue of these folks. Yes, they put the economy at risk. And now we -- and they talk about the pay for performance.

They got paid handsomely when they were profitable. They got paid handsomely when they weren't profitable. And they got paid handsomely with our money, I mean, equals anger.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, there is a diversion right now, or a division, in America between those who are benefiting from the fact that the economy at its highest levels is coming back to some extent.

But unemployment is very high. You know, business startups are very low. The real economy out there is lagging behind our -- you know, the economy at the heights. And I think that is going to cause some tensions.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that, too, do you not, Mark? I mean, it's -- while, in some strata of the economy, nothing is changing, except it is either remaining flat or it's negative, while, at the top, it's doing very well.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. It's socialism for the rich.

I mean, obviously, the people having their houses repossessed are not too big to fail, or the people losing their jobs. We're laying off teachers in this country. I mean, and 75 years ago, Franklin Roosevelt said the measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

And, I mean, I just think this thing has turned totally upside down. And I think there is a political rage. I think Michael is right that it's not left, right or center. I just think it -- we came to the rescue of these folks. Yes, they put the economy at risk. And now we -- and they talk about the pay for performance.

They got paid handsomely when they were profitable. They got paid handsomely when they weren't profitable. And they got paid handsomely with our money, I mean, equals anger.

MICHAEL GERSON: OK.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the potential or the probability at this point that there is going to be a runoff election?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it is pretty much inevitable, if the electoral commission, the U.N. electoral commission, comes in with a report that puts, you know, Karzai under 50 percent. If he were to ignore that report, this would move from being a controversial election to being a stolen election, which wouldn't work for him and it wouldn't work for us. There is really very little option here.

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