This Angry Moment: Populist Outrage Building 165 million taxpayer dollars are going to the same employees at AIG who were responsible for its downfall. A new Gallup poll shows that three-quarters of Americans want the government to block or retrieve that money. Are you, your friends and your colleagues angry?
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This Angry Moment: Populist Outrage Building

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This Angry Moment: Populist Outrage Building

This Angry Moment: Populist Outrage Building

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Public anger has been simmering for some time, stoked by the sense that while ordinary Americans lose their jobs and their homes and watch their retirement funds go up in smoke, the Wall Street fat cats who created this mess get billion-dollar bailouts from the government.

In particular, there's outrage over bonuses at AIG. Dozens of executives at the division that's become an emblem of recklessness and greed will split $165 million, if they get to keep it.

A new Gallop poll shows that three-quarters of Americans want the government to block the bonuses or retrieve them, and people are angry.

Today, we want you to be our reporters. What are your friends, your family, your co-workers saying and doing about bonuses and bailouts? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, "Distracted." Actors Cynthia Nixon and Josh Stamberg play a mom and dad who wonder if their son has ADD and what to do about it.

But first, This Angry Moment, and we begin with Marc Ambinder. He's associate editor of The Atlantic and writes for The Atlantic's political channel. He's with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. MARC AMBINDER (The Atlantic): My pleasure.

CONAN: And there's the bailout bill, Bear Stearns, Bernie Madoff. There's a lot of stuff. Why now?

Mr. AMBINDER: Well, the fertile - the soil is incredibly fertile, and -when it comes to populist outrage, and the AIG bonuses seem to have been the spark that just ignites the growth of this, of this phenomenon.

Of course, the principal reason why now is because the bonuses were very recently paid, and the Treasury Department notified the White House that this would be a potential problem, and then the White House reacted to it.

But this is something that's been percolating for months and months and months because the government has sought to strike, in its mind, a balance between controlling these companies and holding them accountable, in part because even within the Democratic Party and within the economic orthodoxy that President Obama subscribes to, there's something about the sanctity of contracts, the sanctity of a company's internal decisions, that the government should not get involved in.

That was the thinking behind the provision that was added to the stimulus bill that allows any contract signed before the enactment of the stimulus bill to - or prohibits it from being abrogated.

CONAN: And no small part of the outrage is, gee, they didn't feel that way about the UAW contracts with Ford and General Motors and - well, not Ford, particularly, but General Motors and Chrysler.

Mr. AMBINDER: You know, there's a sense in America, particularly when times turn tough, that pain ought to be shared equally and distributed, and anyone who isn't sharing the pain is automatically suspect. But certainly when, as you pointed out, the very division of a company like AIG, a very complex company that most Americans still don't quite understand what it does, the very division that was implicated in seeding some of these - seeding some of the conditions that caused the downturn, is benefiting from the very help that they're getting.

CONAN: Is it a sense, to some degree, that up until now we've not had individuals to blame and well, now we know some people who we think are responsible?

Mr. AMBINDER: I think that's part of it. Again, though, just to get back to the notion of shared pain, the idea that people are profiting from other people's pain…

CONAN: Or not being held to account for their mistakes, or being rewarded for failure.

Mr. AMBINDER: Being rewarded for failure, but even if you look back several months, Americans, when asked to name the institutions that they trusted, would rank banks as low as, for example, the legal establishment or lawyers.

CONAN: And the political effect of this could have been felt last September, when this first erupted, in the sense of, among some Republicans, that John McCain would have been much better off saying absolutely no, we're not going to go ahead with the bailout.

Mr. AMBINDER: Right. In fact, the Republican Party now is debating their stance on this, whether they should translate this anger into opposing all bailouts, or whether they should continue to harp on Democrats for the transparency issue.

It is interesting, though, to see this catalyzed in a way that also reflects the participation of the elites, white-collar people, the media, not just blue-collar workers, for example, we normally associate with populist movements.

This is just a very widespread anger that's not limited to one section of the economy or one class of people.

CONAN: And do you see anybody fomenting it? Is there any leader, or is this literally the prairie fire?

Mr. AMBINDER: It's a good question. You could argue that by reacting the way that they did, Congress is fomenting this by essentially dropping everything else that they're doing and spending several days trying to figure out how to recoup what is, in essence, one-tenth of 1 percent of the money that AIG received.

And you could also, I think, make a fairly valid argument that Congress is using this example to show that they're on top of the situation, that they understand the anger, that in the future they're not going to let something like this slip by them - in a sense, a fig leaf for dealing with the deeper issue, which is regulatory reform, which is something that is going to be very complex and Congress is going to have to make compromises on and might not please the American people.

CONAN: And finally, does - is something positive likely to come out of this anger? I'm sure Congress is going to pass a bill that says if you kept that bonus, you're going to get taxed. Some of these people don't live in the country, but anyway, some of that money is going to be coming back.

Mr. AMBINDER: Well, I think if you look at the long term, you know, there are several avenues where this anger could be channeled. Perhaps it could be channeled into further distrust of government, which would complicate efforts for regulatory reform.

But the polling so far shows that it increases the willingness of the American people to accept a degree of control over the economy that they hadn't before.

Depending on your point of view, that could be a good thing, particularly if, as the current White House believes, there's a need to redress or correct for the excesses of the capitalism of the Bush era.

CONAN: Marc Ambinder, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. AMBINDER: My pleasure.

CONAN: Marc Ambinder, associate editor of The Atlantic, with us here in Studio 3A, and we've asked you to be our reporters today, to talk to your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, find out what they are saying and doing with this outrage.

Give us call, 800-989-8255. Email us, And let's see if we can begin with Kit, and Kit's calling us from Donnelly in Idaho.

KIT (Caller): Good morning.

CONAN: Good morning.

KIT: Well, if you want my take on this whole thing…

CONAN: We were hoping, Kit, that you'd - Kit, excuse me, we were hoping you'd talked to your friends and neighbors. What are they saying?

KIT: I have talked to my friends and neighbors, ever since we first heard about this. We're disgusted. We feel like we've been betrayed, seduced and just led on, not necessarily by the Obama administration, but by big business like AIG.

We've heard their song and dance. We've listened to the automobile manufacturers, who have upheld, I would say, less than their part of the bargain. But as far as AIG goes, I think I can speak for quite a few people. We feel that the honest and ethical thing to do is to refuse the bonuses and return them.

They borrowed a lot of money, and I don't see that this is a reward for incompetency.

CONAN: And beyond anger, Kit, are people doing anything about it, writing their congressmen?

KIT: We are writing our congressmen. We're calling radio talk shows like you. You know, what can the people do except respond through their representatives?

We have a good president, even though I didn't vote for him. We pray daily that he can finish this tough job he's got to do. Nobody would want to be in that kind of seat right now. But to let a big company like AIG just walk all over the U.S. people, and it looks like they're walking all over the administration and just circumventing the whole issue, is disgusting. We've all had enough of it. We want the powers that be, whether it be federal government or the people, you know, just put their foot down. This has got to stop.

CONAN: Kit, thanks very much, appreciate it.

KIT: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's turn now to Cathy, and Cathy's on the line from Long Island in New York.

CATHY (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

CATHY: You know, I have to agree with Kit that everybody I know is outraged, morally outraged. It's absolutely crazy, and to hear this morning that AIG is saying they had to pay these bonuses to retain these people to help sort out the mess is just - it's insulting.

There are so many people out there that are unemployed that could probably sort out the mess for a lot less money and would be happy to have the job.

CONAN: Yet they say - I'm not advocating this, but they say - these are the people who know the most about this, and if you want it done efficiently, and we all should because we now own the company, they're the best people to do it.

CATHY: Well, it's kind of like letting the fox, you know, run the henhouse kind of thing. It's scary, and I think, you know, someone else needs to clean up their mess, and that's got to be done.

I mean, my husband owns a business that we've been building for 15 years, and we live in New York, high cost of living, high real estate taxes, high corporate taxes, and we're struggling.

And you know, we employ a bunch of people, and they're going to be struggling, and it's disheartening to know that we've done everything right and that they're going to get a - you know, they've gotten a bailout and then they, they get bonuses on top of it.

CONAN: So you - I don't mean to put words in your mouth, Cathy, but you sound like you're saying, look, we're hardworking people, we've played by the rules all this time and you know, these people who have been - this company has been fueled by greed and maybe borderline criminality, they get rewarded for it, and we get it in the neck.

CATHY: Absolutely, absolutely, and again, our money is going to help bail it out, and I thought, you know, I saw personally this coming a year ago, and we know that, you know, all the banks and AIG and everybody else should've seen this coming with the mortgage crisis and everything else.

We paid down our debt personally. We put money away. We've got an emergency reserve, and you know what? That still may not be enough, and it's really disheartening and it's very scary to know that, again, you do everything right and - we didn't get Christmas bonuses this year, and we weren't able to give any of our employees a Christmas bonus, and that was the first time in 15 years that we couldn't do that.

CONAN: And just quickly, do you think it's fair to put all this on a few dozen people at one company?

CATHY: I don't think it's fair, but it's not just one company, it's not just a few dozen people. I don't think anyone, any company that got any bailout, any government help, whether it's car companies or anything, should be receiving bonuses. They should be lucky that they're still receiving a paycheck and be thankful for that.

CONAN: Cathy, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

CATHY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're asking you to be our reporters today. Talk to your friends, your co-workers, your family. How are they reacting to the outrage over bonuses and bailouts? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're asking you to be our reporters today. How are your friends, your family, your co-workers, reacting to the outrage over bailouts and bonuses? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us,

It's on blogs and grocery lines. Yes, you can hear it on talk shows, too: fury. Americans are mad as hell in the wake of the bailouts and bonuses, not the first time that sleeping rage has been awakened.

Joining us now is Michael Kazin, who teaches history at Georgetown University and writes about American politics. He's the author of "The Populist Persuasion: An American History," and he joins us now from the studios of our member station here in Washington, D.C., WAMU. Nice to have you on the program.

Professor MICHAEL KAZIN (Georgetown University): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And you wrote a piece for the Web site, The Daily Beast, called "A Short History of American Rage," and you say the current public anger is just the latest expression of two centuries of periodic outrage. Tell us briefly about that.

Prof. KAZIN: Well, populism is as old as America, in many ways. It goes back to debates between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton about concentrated economic power and the first bank in the United States.

You know, I think in many ways, Americans, you know, we have no problem with capitalism, unlike some other parts of the world and other parts of the 20th century, other times in the 20th century, but we don't like it when capitalists exploit us and betray us, and especially when financial powers do that, whether Wall Street, investment houses, big banks, an insurance company like AIG.

CONAN: And is this a phenomenon of bad times? Does a rising tide sort of diffuse this?

Prof. KAZIN: It certainly diffuses it to a certain degree, but I think there's still an undercurrent in American culture of a suspicion of people who seem to make a lot of money doing things that, you know, are a little confusing to folks who are not in on the fix, so to speak.

Hedge funds, for example - even though, you know, hedge funds were part of the boom on the market in the '90s and first part of the 21st century, nevertheless when, you know, Americans talked about them, they seemed like this sort of private club of people making lots and lots of money doing things nobody else really could understand.

CONAN: So all of this is, you know, those people. You can divide it between us and well, you know, Skull and Bones.

Prof. KAZIN: Yeah, and us is people who do something useful for society, and I think there's a suspicion in good times and bad, but especially in bad times, of course, like now, that those bankers, those insurance companies, are really making money off other people's labor, off other people's money in some ways, rather than making cars, building houses, serving food, teaching children, you know, really useful things.

CONAN: Like doing talk shows. Anyway, I have to say, I mean, it's gotten to the point, people are making jokes that this has, you know, caused a spike in pitchfork sales.

Prof. KAZIN: Yeah, of course, that's a reference to an older, agrarian kind of populism, which isn't around much anymore. We don't have too many farmers left, but there's still - you know, the metaphors of the past live on in the present.

CONAN: And some do equate this kind of outrage, and this latest incident doesn't come anywhere close to it, with mob rule.

Prof. KAZIN: Yeah, and certainly in other countries, when they use the word populism, intellectuals use the word populism, they usually use it in a very derogatory way.

Chavez in Venezuela, for example, some of the - Putin in Russia are called populists, and that's not a positive term. But I think, you know, we should think more kindly about populism.

After all, if this is supposed to be a democracy, and people are supposed to get rewarded for their work, and they invest money in the stock market and they trust the stock market is not going to be run for the benefit of only a few people, then it makes sense that they are angry when those promises get betrayed.

So I'm - as an historian of populism, I'm also a populist with a small P.

CONAN: There have been examples of Americans in the past who have sought to hitch their wagon to the star of populism: Huey Long, maybe, in Louisiana in the old days, Father Coughlin, the old radio broadcaster.

Prof. KAZIN: Yeah, and certainly there are demagogues, people who exploit this sentiment for their own self-interest. Sometimes we call those people politicians.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. KAZIN: Sometimes we call them by less…

CONAN: Savory terms.

Prof. KAZIN: Yes, you know, but I think, again, this is, you know, if you have a mass democracy, as we do, sometimes it will be exploited by people who are somewhat unsavory, but that comes with the game, I'm afraid.

You know, when there's a lot of anger out there, there are people who are going to try to get fame or fortune by monopolizing that anger.

CONAN: And this one may not have peaked as yet but nevertheless, on the basis of populist outrages in the past, where does this rank so far?

Prof. KAZIN: Well, it is early, as you say. We've had various kinds of populist outrages. Some have benefited the right, like in the 1970s and '80s. Some benefit the left, as in the 1930s and the 1890s, when the original Populist Party began.

You know, I think the relationship between people in power and the populist anger is a very important one, and just as, you know - Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to sort of channel the populist outrage in the '30s, at least a lot of it, to produce a governing coalition, which lasted for quite a while, and Barack Obama would like to do that himself. It's an open question if he'll be able to or not.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

Prof. KAZIN: Sure.

CONAN: Michael Kazin is a history professor at Georgetown. His most recent book, "A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan," and he joins us today from the studios of member station WAMU here in Washington, D.C.

And let's go back to the phones. Greg is joining us, Greg calling from Boise in Idaho.

GREG (Caller): Yes, thanks for having me.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

GREG: We are a small company, and you know, because of this downturn, our shipments are delayed. You know, our business is dependent on us being able to hold our promises to our customers, and basically we used to calculate five days into a UPS shipment coming in here, and now we're having to calculate seven days.

CONAN: And is that a result of credit or…

GREG: Partially. It's partially because of credit on both our customers' end, on our ends, and it's basically starting to hold up shipments. You know, we're seeing where we have to - we're selling a product, we're in the green industry here, and you know, we sell various alternate energy products, and people want these.

But we're having everything from customers saying, oh, I can't, you know, afford this right now to - when we get a shipment - you know, there's enough delays in the system, you know, caused by ripples from all of this that we end up having to say, well, you know, a shipment didn't arrive, and I have to move you into next week.

CONAN: And is there anything to do, other than inquire as to whether FedEx might be more efficient?

GREG: Well, you know, you do that, and they say, well, you know, the shipment's on its way. You can only push so hard at certain points, and then you hear about - you know, and this is what we're talking about here. You're hearing about people who did a bad job and are getting a bonus, and we're doing a good job with a product that people want, and we can't deliver because of the problems that this completely remote and unrelated industry has caused us.

CONAN: Well, maybe not so remote or unrelated, as it turns out, but…

GREG: Right, right, very much now - pain, you know, very directly connected.

CONAN: Greg, good - we wish you the best of luck.

GREG: Yeah, we should put a hold on their bonuses until they actually deliver and perform rather than, you know, they're saying, oh well, we have all these legal obligations. Well, give them the money after they deliver, you know?

CONAN: Okay, Greg. Thanks very much.

GREG: Uh-huh.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Dennis, Dennis from Juneau in Alaska.

DENNIS (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Dennis. What are people telling you?

DENNIS: Yeah, I'm a taxi driver. I can tell you, across the board my passengers are outraged. I listen to either the news or talk radio quite a bit when I'm in the cab, and passenger comments are just across the board; it doesn't make any difference what the profession is. They're outraged.

And I carry all kinds of people, varying from - because Juneau's the state capital. I carry people that range from people that are coming to lobby the legislature - business people coming to lobby the legislature, to folks who don't drive - elderly folks who don't drive but need to go to the grocery store. And everyone's mad.

They're just outraged that these guys are collecting this money, and especially the folks on the lower end of the income spectrum who are just trying to get by on Social Security and maybe some kind of minimum retirement income, and for whom a taxi ride to the store every couple of weeks to buy groceries is a pretty hefty expense. And they're very upset.

CONAN: Are they doing anything about it, at least as far as they're telling you, Dennis?

DENNIS: Well, some of them, I know, have either called or e-mailed or written to Senator Begich's office or Senator Murkowski's office. And I know that, you know, they, of course, they've talked about it at the Chamber of Commerce. They've talked about it at, I'm sure, in their own conversations. I don't know exactly what they're doing. But a lot of them are a little upset.

Alaska's financial situation was, until the price of oil went down recently, a little isolated from the national financial bubble collapse. But now that the price of oil is back down, Alaska's economy is taking a hit, too.

CONAN: If it goes back up, people will be mad at you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DENNIS: I'm sure they were mad enough at us. I mean, they get mad at us and OPEC, you know?

CONAN: Yeah. Well, you come after OPEC.

DENNIS: (Unintelligible).

CONAN: You come after OPEC, Dennis. Anyway, thanks very much for the call.

DENNIS: Yeah. Well, people are mad everywhere. And I've had people from all over the country that were outraged. So…

CONAN: Yeah. Drive carefully, will you?

DENNIS: I will.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Joining us now is William Cohan, who's written two books about Wall Street. The latest is "House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street." It's about the fall of Bear Stearns. He's with us here in Studio 3A.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. WILLIAM COHAN (Author, "House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street"): Thank you.

CONAN: And we wanted to ask you particularly about a piece you wrote for the Daily Beast called "The Top 5 Phony Scapegoats" - unscientific, as you say. But you write that angry Americans want people to blame for the financial mess, but come on. Are AIG, Tim Geithner and John Thain, the old head of Merrill Lynch, really to blame for your retirement losses? Well, aren't they?

Mr. COHAN: Well, I think it's definitely human nature to want to blame somebody. But I just thought it would be interesting to actually try to help people focus their anger on the people who are most directly responsible. So, you know, it seems to me that at the moment, Secretary of the Treasury Geithner is getting a lot of focus and a lot of attention - some of it, you know, perhaps, correct, but - because, you know, he should've paid his taxes, for instance.

CONAN: Oh, yeah.

Mr. COHAN: And that gets me angry too. But you know, when it comes to blame for this crisis, I think he's more part of the solution. And he was there - you know, a heart surgeon with the - body is on the table, and the ribcage is broken open, and the heart needs resuscitation, and he was there to try to help it along the way at various points along with Treasury - former Treasury Secretary Paulson and…

CONAN: Well, he was the head of a New York Fed…

Mr. COHAN: Absolutely.

CONAN: …before he got this big job.

Mr. COHAN: Yeah.

CONAN: So, wasn't he part of the problem then?

Mr. COHAN: Well, as he points out correctly, he was not the regulator of Wall Street. The regulator of Wall Street was the SEC. And if anyone is to blame, I think it's former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, who seems to not have done his job at all.

CONAN: Let's talk about John Thain, another person people vilified, the man with the $1.2 million office redecorations.

Mr. COHAN: It's very hard to try to defend him, and I hate to be put in the position. On the other hand, if you're going to be honest, John Thain actually did a number of things at Merrill aside from the $1.2 million office that actually helped the firm, which was raise a bunch of equity capital when they needed it. He also sold a bunch of the so-called toxic assets to a private equity firm for 22 cents on the dollar. And most importantly, he sold a bunch of assets that were not core assets for Merrill Lynch, including a stake in Bloomberg L.P., back to Bloomberg.

And you know, the real blame there belongs to the previous management, led by Stan O'Neal, who chose to put Merrill's feet whole hog into these - underwriting these toxic securities.

CONAN: We're talking with William Cohan about the scapegoats and those who are really responsible for the mess we're in.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we get Dan(ph) on line. Dan, calling us from Salem, Oregon.

DAN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Dan.

DAN: I'm a dentist here in Salem, and I talk with patients all day while they're waiting to get numb. And every one of them is upset about this bonus thing. But none of them seem to understand that the bonuses from having these guys stay around rather than…

CONAN: It's retention, not performance.

DAN: It's not - and the performance people didn't get - aren't rewarded at all.

CONAN: Because performance - well, the last quarter of - AIG lost more money than any other corporation in history ever.

DAN: After they hear that it sort of - it's just people are sort of not getting the real story about where these bonuses come from, but everybody talks about the bonus.

CONAN: And I guess, William Cohan, a lot of this is spin, a couple of words. A lot of people regretted allowing that bill back in September to be called the bailout bill because that just added to people's anger about it and hear performance bonuses, how could that possibly be? Well, he's right, it's a retention bonus.

Mr. COHAN: Well, and the horrible thing there is that the people who got - some of the people who got the bonuses left with their bonuses. So if they're retention, let's get them back to where they should - we paid them.

CONAN: If they've taken the bonus, they should be retained.

Mr. COHAN: And let's, you know, consider it public service. Let's get them back, help us solve the problem that they helped create.

CONAN: And that points to another - and Dan, thanks very much.

DAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And that points to another person you say is a phony scapegoat, and that's Ed Liddy, the head of AIG.

Mr. COHAN: Well, he's only been there six months. So - and he's working for a dollar a year, which is nice of him. How about the guys who were running AIG for the previous, say, 40 years? For instance, Hank Greenberg ran - and is the embodiment of AIG - he ran it for only 38 years. And he was let go in 2005, and Martin Sullivan took over and ran it for a few years until Robert Willumstad came in.

I mean, how could you not apportion some of the blame for what happened here to Hank Greenberg and Martin Sullivan, for the way they ran this company, especially the financial products division, which is where all this toxic waste was created?

CONAN: Let's got to Otis(ph). Otis, with us from Rocky Mountain, North Carolina.

OTIS (Caller): Yes. Hi.


OTIS: I guess I'm angry about a lot of things. And the people that I listen to are angry - and it's emotionally angry. And as the previous person was saying, they don't seem to know where to place the anger. And I was telling someone it's kind of like listening to people talk in a barbershop. It's a lot of talking without a lot of information and basis for what they're saying. And I would like to - my anger goes back for years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

OTIS: I think it - and one of the things I also get angry about is when I hear people wanting to blame the subprime mortgagers to people who took out mortgages and they say they weren't qualified for mortgages that didn't…

CONAN: Well, that was interesting, Bill Cohan. That was sort of an earlier phase of this, where people said a lot of people took out mortgages they couldn't afford, bought more house than they could, they're just trying to flip it to make a quick profit. That greed was not always directed at Wall Street.

OTIS: Well, I'm not talking about the people flipping. I'm talking about people who actually took out home, borrow - make mortgages to buy a home…

CONAN: Uh-huh.

OTIS: …that may not have had the high credit - in other words, the subprime borrowers.

CONAN: Right.

OTIS: And I don't think that - it upsets me when I hear people want to blame them because I think that that is the thing that has driven this economy for the last 20 or 30 years.

CONAN: Well, let's get a comment, Otis, quickly, from William Cohan.

OTIS: Okay. Well, my comment is that…

CONAN: I'm sorry, Otis. We're running out of time. So I'm going to go to Mr. Cohan.

Mr. COHAN: Well, I guess my reaction would be that people have to take personal responsibility. They shouldn't be borrowing money that they can't pay back. And, yes, there was a lot of fraud involved, but let's remember: Borrow what you can pay back.

CONAN: Well, were those people - the people who were just trying to buy a house and, you know, achieve the American dream - are they false scapegoats, too?

Mr. COHAN: If they borrowed money that they couldn't pay back, they're not. But if they, you know, are paying their mortgages, then yes, they are false scapegoats.

CONAN: William Cohan, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. COHAN: Thank you.

CONAN: He joined us here in Studio 3A. When we come back, we're going to be talking about a new play called "Distracted."

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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