The discussion moved swiftly across topics, such as the general soundness of the overall system and how to jump-start lending, before it came around to what was on everyone's mind: compensation.
The CEOs went into their traditional stance: "It's almost impossible to set caps; it's never worked, and you lose your best people," said one. "We're competing for talent on an international market," said another. Obama cut them off.
"Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn't buying that," he said. "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."
It was an attention grabber, no doubt, especially that carefully chosen last word.
But then Obama's flat tone turned to one of support, even sympathy. "You guys have an acute public relations problem that's turning into a political problem," he said. "And I want to help. But you need to show that you get that this is a crisis and that everyone has to make some sacrifices."
According to one of the participants, he then said, "I'm not out there to go after you. I'm protecting you. But if I'm going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation."
No suggestions were forthcoming from the bankers on what they might offer, and the president didn't seem to be championing any specific proposals. He had none; neither Geithner nor Summers believed compensation controls had any merit.
After a moment, the tension in the room seemed to lift: the bankers realized he was talking about voluntary limits on compensation until the storm of public anger passed. It would be for show.
Friday, November 4, 2011
a story everyone should know about Obama
From Confidence Men by Ron Suskind, quoted at A Tiny Revolution: A Massive Bluggy Failure, a description of Obama's March 27, 2009 meeting with the heads of thirteen major banks: