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Lying From Any Position

By Carter Clews

“When we played our charade,
We were like children posing,
Playing at games, acting out names,
Guessing the parts we played.”
—Johnny Mercer, Charade.

Barack Obama may have just set a world record for tossing in the towel in a game of charades. Not more than a week ago, the posturing, preening Wizard of Ooze declared for all the world to hear that he was sick and tired of pampered, overpaid executives ripping off his backstreet buddies.

So, he was capping the moguls' salaries at a paltry $500,000 a year.

Take that you bunch of blow-dried Wall Street flim-flam artists with your tanning booth glows and your smarmy Whitestrip smiles!

But, alas, times change (in Mr. Obama's funambulistic world, often by the minute). And now, less than one-week after his growling, scowling pronouncement, he has sent out his press office factotums to “clarify” his position.

According to the Washington Times, Mr. Obama's mustachioed svengali, David Axelrod, informed the newsies that “excessive limits” on executive earning could cause a “brain drain” (Dr. Frankenstein). And besides, if the top executives think they might have to personally pay for their fiscal malfeasance, they might reject the taxpayers' bailout money altogether.

Which, of course, is just about as likely to happen as the perfumed ladies of the Mustang Ranch rejecting cash on the barrelhead.

But, of course, the Obama hard line on limiting executive pay was nothing more than an empty charade from day one. If Barack Obama knows anything, it is how to squeeze all of the juice out of an orange. After all, this is a guy who even now has his hucksters out selling everything from commemorative coffee mugs to “Hope” t-shirts in the Oval Office equivalent of the Arab bazaar.

So, he knows full well that his proposed cap on executive salaries was a meaningless play to the gallery, which – even if he didn't retract it a week later – would never have taken one thin dime from his corporate benefactors' pockets. The truth is, the actual salary a top executive takes home has about as much relationship to his real corporate income as do lightning bugs to lightning bolts.

For today's top executives, take-home pay is a drop in the bucket compared to the tidal wave of their total compensation. For example, according to the Washington Post, in 2006 Sallie Mae CEO Thomas Fitzpatrick took home a measly $682, 325. But his total compensation package was $39,629,325. And, oh, by the way, that was on company net losses of $1.4 billion.

Martine Rothblatt, Chairman and CEO of United Therapeutics Corporation made only $660,000 in 2006. But, not to worry, she pocketed a cool $31,104,933 in total compensation. Which hardly seems fair when compared to Mr. Fitzpatrick's $39 million ,when one considers that she held UTC's net income loss to just $65 million.

And then, there is poor old Richard Fairbank, Chairman, President, and CEO of Capital One, who got squat for his prodigious efforts in 2006. That's right, squat – as in nada, zilch, -0-; no salary whatsoever. Which means the guy had to try to eke out a living on his total compensation package of just $31,604,431 that year, all the while wearing not one, but three hats. Is there no justice? I mean, after all, his company lost only $1.8 billion in 2006.

Well, maybe, just maybe, when Barack Obama made his bold, populist declaration about capping executive salaries, he just didn't realize that whole bit about total compensation. Maybe that's the case. And maybe if pigs had wings, they'd fly.

The fact is, last week was not the first time Mr. Obama indulged in a little bit of fanciful executive compensation charades.

Back during his ascendancy to the throne – pardon me, I slipped into a bit of Mainstream Mediaspeak there; I meant his campaign for the presidency – while appearing in Dunedin, Fla., on Sept. 24, Mr. Obama took credit for introducing legislation in 2007 that, he claimed, would have imposed stringent restraints on big bonuses and severance payments corporations give top executives.

“In the last few days,” he intoned, “my opponent has decided to start talking tough about CEO pay. He's suddenly a hard-charging populist. And that's all well and good. But I sure wish he was talking the same way over a year ago, when I introduced a bill that would've helped stop the multimillion-dollar bonus packages that CEOs grab on their way out the door.”

Well, now, the truth is, Mr. Obama knew full well that his much-ballyhooed bill wouldn't have stopped a red cent in bonus packages, let alone a “multimillion-dollar” windfall. He knew it because his highfalutin bill didn't have a snowball in Hades' chance of passing the U.S. Senate, getting to the House of Representatives, or ever arriving on President Bush's desk.

You see, the junior senator from Illinois's window dressing bill, introduced, as he said, more than a year earlier, was at that very moment languishing in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee where his own Democrat colleagues had made certain it never even came up for a hearing, let alone a vote.

But, then, what's a little outright duplicity when playing the game of charades?

In the classic Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn movie Charades, the Hepburn character, when tending to the wounds of the thoroughly duplicitous Grant character, remarks, “I'm afraid you won't be able to lie on your back for awhile”. She then adds mischievously, “But then you can lie from any position, can't you?"

So, apparently, can Barack Obama.

Carter Clews is the Executive Editor of ALG News.


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