Mixed messages

MIXED MESSAGES…. The interest in, and outrage over, AIG’s bonuses is moving quickly, but it seems the various political contingents haven’t quite nailed down their messages to the public.

For example, the Obama White House has tried to get out in front of the story, with the president, among others, expressing a fair amount of disgust. At the same time, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel believes the administration’s “main priority is getting the financial system stabilized, and he believes this is a big distraction in that effort.”

Something doesn’t add up here. Either the White House is taking this seriously or the White House sees the story as a “big distraction.” Can it be both? Probably not.

There’s similar confusion on the right. We see, for example, several congressional Republicans hoping to exploit the public’s frustrations for partisan gain, and echoing outrage over the bonuses. But at the same time, some Republican leaders are trying to downplay the controversy, and none other than Rush Limbaugh is taking AIG’s side in all of this.

During the March 17 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh — “a great leader for conservatives” — defended American International Group (AIG) from criticism of the company’s controversial employee retention bonuses. Limbaugh declared, “A lynch mob is expanding: the peasants with their pitchforks surrounding the corporate headquarters of AIG, demanding heads. Death threats are pouring in. All of this being ginned up by the Obama administration.” … This — it’s just a populist ruse. It’s just designed to people go, ‘Yeah, yeah!’ “

My hunch is, we’re hearing mixed messages because it’s not too difficult to point blame in different directions. For Democrats, there’s a realization that Tim Geithner and Obama’s Treasury Department hasn’t exactly been vigilant when it comes to AIG. For Republicans, there’s that nagging reality that it was the Bush administration that helped set the terms of the AIG bailout last fall.

The result, it seems, is many of the relevant political players stepping on each others’ lines.