President Bizarro Elihu Smails

Apparently there’s one insult the current administration is absolutely unwilling to endure – the humiliation of bank CEO’s returning strings-attached TARP funds. Several bank CEO’s met with President Smails Obama this week, and what they had to say didn’t sit well with the Command and Controller in Chief:

The president described the financial system as still “fragile” and asked for cooperation from the CEOs. But he also told them he wouldn’t shy away from regulatory reform. Obama wrapped up his remarks and threw the conversation open to the table, saying, “So, who’d like to talk?”

JPMorgan’s Dimon spoke first. He began by complimenting the president on the economic team he’d assembled. And he said his industry needs to explain more directly to the American people that the economic recovery plans are already working. Dimon also insisted that he’d like to give the government’s TARP money back as soon as practical, and asked the president to “streamline” that process.

But Obama didn’t like that idea — arguing that the system still needs government capital.

The president offered an analogy: “This is like a patient who’s on antibiotics,” he said. “Maybe the patient starts feeling better after a couple of days, but you don’t stop taking the medicine until you’ve finished the bottle.” Returning the money too early, the president argued could send a bad signal.

Several CEOs disagreed, arguing instead that returning TARP money was their patriotic duty, that they didn’t need it anymore, and that publicity surrounding the return would send a positive signal of confidence to the markets.You’ll get taxpayer funds and like it. Almost like he’s using Johnny Punchclock and Joe Sixpack’s hard-earned money to guarantee he can choose the winners and losers on Wall Street. Redistributor in Chief indeed. Then what happens if banks succeed without Uncle Sugar’s help? With all the fundamentally transformative plans he’s got in mind we can’t have the American people regaining faith in the power of free markets.

Arrayed around a long mahogany table in the White House state dining room last week, the CEOs of the most powerful financial institutions in the world offered several explanations for paying high salaries to their employees — and, by extension, to themselves.

“These are complicated companies,” one CEO said. Offered another: “We’re competing for talent on an international market.”

But President Barack Obama wasn’t in a mood to hear them out. He stopped the conversation and offered a blunt reminder of the public’s reaction to such explanations. “Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn’t buying that.”

“My administration,” the president added, “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” Hail to the Extortionist in Chief. Of course, what makes that giggling-like-a-reefer-addled-moron funny is the $210 million in retention bonuses scheduled for payment to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac employees – including up to $1.5 million for certain executives. Government entities created the crisis, government employees will get retention bonuses, but if private entities try to retain their top employees through bonuses Obama will use his (schoolyard) bully pulpit to set the public upon Wall Street.

You’ll get taxpayer funds and like it. You’ll lose your best employees and like it. You’ll watch as we pay retention bonuses to executives of the very entities that spawned the credit crisis and like it. Does anyone think the idea of Obama chastising a White House valet over wax buildup on his shoes is really all that far fetched?

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