Defending An Undefensible

Every now and then, I’ll hear something outrageous — and try to defend it just as an intellectual exercise. It’s the creative writer in me. This time, I saw and heard the confrontation between Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Michael Williams, the head of Fannie Mae, over the compensation rates for the folks at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Issa noted that in the last two years, Williams had made $9.3 million while Fannie Mae lost huge amounts of money. He then went on to note that in the same two years, President Obama had earned only $800,000.


At that moment, I desperately wanted to answer Issa. I happen to be a big admirer of Issa, as he is turning out to be one of the most tenacious people going after the corruption in the Obama administration. But here, he left me a big, hanging curve ball that I so wanted to smack out of the park.


“Representative Issa, I would like to answer that question at some length, if you will allow me.


“First, your citation for President Obama’s compensation is rather incomplete. When one takes in the total compensation for the president — salary, health care, housing, transportation, expenses, staff for him and his wife, pension, and a host of other benefits — the value is far, far greater than the simple $400,000 a year you mention.


“Second, if you look at performance, I would note that President Obama ran up the federal debt over four trillion dollars since he took office. I would argue that he lost far, far more money than we did — or ever could.
“Finally, sir, when I negotiate for my compensation, it’s not my responsibility to keep it what others consider “reasonable.” It’s my duty to myself and my family to maximize what I get for my time, effort, skills, experience, and knowledge. It is up to the other side of the negotiations to minimize what they offer me. Your complaint should not be with me, for taking the money, but with those who offered it to me and those who approved it.


“Likewise, if you want to discuss the bonuses I and others earned, I suggest you take that up with those who set the terms for those bonuses. They were set on predetermined performance goals, clearly spelled out in advance. And we lived up to those terms. We played by the rules — if you don’t care for the results, perhaps you ought to re-evaluate those rules — and those who are entrusted with setting those rules.


“Your concern seems to be with our performance, and our compensation for performing as we did. But we acted in full accordance with the rules and regulations laid out for us, and worked towards those goals as laid out for us. And for that, I have nothing to apologize for.”


Yeah, like a lot of other people, I’m disgusted with the way Fannie and Freddie have operated. And that disgust goes way back, long more than just the last two years. To steal a line I really, really don’t like stealing (but it fits so well here), “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

But Issa set up a straw man yesterday, and I really, really like setting straw men on fire. I’m evil that way.

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