“Populist” or Just the Truth?

I have a nit to pick with the Times’s lead story today about Obama calling Wall Street’s $18.4 billion in bonuses “shameful.”

It has to do with its use of the word “populist”, which The Audit has bemoaned before:

It was a pointed — if calculated — flash of anger from the president, who frequently railed against excesses in executive compensation on the campaign trail. He struck his populist tone as he confronted the possibility of having to ask Congress for additional large sums of money, beyond the $700 billion already authorized, to prop up the financial system, even as he pushes Congress to move quickly on a separate economic stimulus package that could cost taxpayers as much as $900 billion.

Let’s face it: “Populist” is a pejorative adjective. It connotes that Obama is saying something he doesn’t believe just to rouse the unwashed masses. But does anyone think that bankers paying themselves $18.4 billion while they take trillions in bailouts and government guarantees and while the economy collapses because of said bankers’ actions is not “shameful”?

Please show yourself then, as long as your name isn’t John Thain. In fact, I’d bet most bankers agree with what Obama said.

In my book, the pinstripes rule out populism.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.