Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke today in Indianapolis, IN where he called for passage of a bill he proposed in the Senate that would require a non-binding shareholder vote on executive pay packages. “We all believe in that fundamental, American value that if you do good work, if you’re successful, you should be rewarded. But if you’re a Wall Street CEO today, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re doing a good job or a bad job for your shareholders and workers: You’ll be rewarded either way,” Obama said.
The Illinois Senator then cited the examples of KB Home where the CEO got a $6 million cash bonus after the company lost a billion dollars last year, and the top two CEOs at Countrywide who walked away with $19 million in compensation even though their company played a major role in the mortgage crisis. “This is an outrage. But as I said in a recent speech at the Cooper Union in New York City, this isn’t an accident. It’s because of decisions made, not just in boardrooms or trading floors, but in Washington. Under Republican and Democratic Administrations, we failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practices. We let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales, using their clout to rig the game against everyday Americans.”
He talked about the bill he proposed last year. “That’s why last year, I proposed legislation that would give shareholders a say on what CEOs are getting paid, and help ensure that companies are disclosing the rationale for the salary and benefits that CEOs are getting. This isn’t just about expressing outrage. It’s about changing a system where bad behavior is rewarded – so that we can hold CEOs accountable, and make sure they’re acting in a way that’s good for their company, good for our economy, and good for America, not just good for themselves. We’ve seen what happens when CEOs are paid for doing a job no matter how bad a job they’re doing. We can’t afford to postpone reform any longer. That’s why Washington needs to act immediately to pass this legislation.”
Obama also criticized John McCain’s proposals for not going far enough. “Now, I know Senator McCain had some sharp words the other day about what some CEOs are getting paid. And I was glad to hear it. But when he’s had the chance to do something about this problem, he’s opted for continuing the do-nothing approach of the Bush years. And this seems to be a trend with Senator McCain. Yesterday, he finally proposed some steps to deal with our housing crisis. And I’m glad he’s moving in the right direction, but what he’s proposing isn’t enough to really help struggling families. So I respect John McCain. He’ll be a worthy opponent. But we can’t afford another four years of policies that don’t make a difference in the lives of ordinary Americans, and that’s what John McCain is offering.”
What first jumps out at me about these remarks is that Obama has adopted the position of frontrunner. These remarks are close to a speech that a nominee would give during a general election campaign. The legislation that Obama proposed is fairly harmless. Much like many of Obama’s other positions, what he is offering is a change in attitude and tone.
He is proposing a change in America’s value system. After nearly eight years of the immoral Bush administration, and with the ethically challenged Clintons as his primary opposition, this is a smart move for the Obama campaign. I believe that a change in leadership will do a great deal to reverse our national doldrums. Since Obama is the only candidate to offer this type of change, it should come as no surprise that he has captured the hearts and minds of so many voters.