There is nothing evil in striving for the American dream that the president has so often lauded, but a kind of nihilistic blindness has led some to put personal gain above all else.
Conventional wisdom says a new president has a political honeymoon of about 100 days to define his presidency.
Mrs. Obama has been on the covers of a slew of magazines, with stories inside lauding her charitable work for women and returned soldiers, her call for national service, her wardrobe, her "perfectly toned" arms. The TV networks went gaga when she dug up part of the White House lawn to plant a victory garden (no beets, because Barack doesn't like them, but plenty of arugula, which he does). Even The New York Times ran a picture of her on its front page leaning on a rake.
By contrast, President Obama was immersed in the problems of the economy: a frozen banking system, soaring unemployment, a sagging housing market, and a struggling stock market.
But what broadsided the president unexpectedly was the fury of public anger over executive compensation, specifically the $165 million in taxpayers' money as bonuses to executives of the American International Group (AIG). Compared with the hundreds of billions in government bailout money being paid to AIG and major failing banking institutions, the millions in bonuses seemed peanuts, albeit large peanuts. But the public anger was barely controllable when it emerged that the bonuses were going to the very AIG executives largely responsible for the company's failure.
The president spluttered with anger. His spokesman decried the firm's "recklessness and greed." Editorial writers burned up their word processors with denunciations. Congressmen ran for cover, demanding the hide of whomever had approved the bonuses. Legislation to recover the bonuses and curb executive greed was hastily drafted. One Republican senator, Charles Grassley of Iowa, demanded that American corporations emulate the ways of Japan, whose disgraced corporate leaders must make bowed public apologies and even commit suicide. (He later clarified that he was not actually suggesting suicide.)