Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Era of Not Getting It: The Marie Antoinettes of the Meltdown

Huffington Post

There is plenty of debate about what President Obama's stimulus bill should look like -- as well there should be, given all that is at stake. But there is a growing consensus that the guiding principle in that debate should be Obama's call for a "new era of responsibility."

Helping fuel that consensus is the saga of the rise and fall of former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, the poster child for the era of irresponsibility. The condemnation of his behavior is completely bipartisan (although we haven't heard yet what John McCain thinks of one of his biggest fundrasing bundlers).

On this week's Left, Right, and Center, my conservative pal Tony Blankley made the perfect comparison: "Thain and these CEOs have been studying at the Marie Antoinette School of Public Presentation," he said. "The crassness and the stupidity are stunning... They ought to be boiled in oil."

Marie Antoinette and her "let them eat cake" became the symbol of Not Getting It -- of not realizing, until it was too late, that a new era had begun. And just like Marie Antoinette, Thain didn't get it, even as Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis was leading him to the corporate guillotine.

In fact, Thain had such a run of not getting it that TPM was able to compile a top ten list of his greatest moments.

The pinnacle of Thain's tone deafness, of course, was his over-the-top makeover of his office in early 2008, just as Merrill Lynch was already hemorrhaging money and preparing to lay off thousands of workers. So to soften the blow (on himself), he spent $1.2 million redecorating. Lowlights include $87,000 for an area rug, and $1,400 for a trashcan............

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