Saturday, March 21, 2009

Move over Moveon

Pop Quiz: Who remembers why MoveOn is called MoveOn?

Answer: The organization started in 1998 as a movement of political progressives and moderates who were appalled by how the efforts to impeach President Clinton were consuming Washington and thus preventing any progress on the country's real problems. The proposal of those early Moveon members (of which I was one) was this: Congress should pass a resolution censuring Clinton and then move on to the country's real business.

If MoveOn were true to its roots, it would surely be arguing today that Congress ought to quickly announce some symbolic denunciation of excessive performance bonuses to people who work for companies receiving federal bailout funds and then move on to the pressing business of rescuing the global economy from what could well be a depression.

As Neil explained, the outrage over the AIG bonuses is largely misdirected. But even if we credit the narrative that the AIG financial products division was unusually or uniquely culpable in causing the current mess, groups like MoveOn have been fanning the flames of over-reaction. The AIG bonuses are, as a few other voices of sanity have been noting, less than one tenth of one percent of the bailout money paid to AIG, and the legislation working its way through Congress that would go well beyond AIG is almost certain to have perverse effects.

Most importantly, every minute that Congress and the Obama Administration are distracted by the populist fervor for recouping the bonuses or finding out who is most responsible for their non-cancellation in the first place (Tim Geithner? Chris Dodd? Hank Paulson?) is a minute spent not working on reviving the actual economy. The bonus mania is reminiscent of nothing so much as the suggestion that President Clinton ordered airstrikes against al Q'aeda targets as a means of deflecting attention from the "real" issue of whether he lied about consensual oral sex. If anybody ought to get that, it should be MoveOn.

Posted by Mike Dorf