By Paula Wolfson
WASHINGTON (RPRN) 03/19/09--U.S. President Barack Obama is in the midst of his first trip in office to California – one of the states hardest hit by the economic recession. Mr. Obama planned the visit to highlight his strategy to rebuild the economy, but the trip is being overshadowed by the latest tales of abuse in the ailing financial sector.
The president says he inherited the mess in the financial sector. But he says he takes responsibility for cleaning it up. “It is my job to make sure that we fix these messes even if I don’t make them,” he said.
He says the public has a right to be angry about the latest tale of abuse: the decision by insurance giant AIG to hand out big bonuses to executives, even though taxpayer dollars are keeping the company afloat.
Mr. Obama – known for his usually calm demeanor – says he is angry too. “It goes against our most basic sense of what is fair and what is right. It offends our values,” he said.
The president says the goal now must be to ensure that these kinds of abuses do not happen again, and that regulations are imposed that prevent the kind of risky deals that drove AIG to the verge of bankruptcy in the first place.
“These bonuses, outrageous as they are, are a symptom of a much larger problem. And that is the system and culture that made them possible – a culture where people made enormous sums for taking irresponsible risks that have now put the entire economy at risk,” he said.
The president spoke at a community meeting in Costa Mesa, a suburban town in southern California that is reeling from the affects of the economic recession.
Mr. Obama took questions from some of the roughly 1,300 people in the audience. And while much has been made of the public anger over the AIG bonuses, no one asked the president about them.
Instead, most of the questions dealt with prospects for the economic recovery. One man wanted to know if California could get its hands on money from the president’s stimulus package turned down by other states. Several other participants who had lost their jobs wanted to know when and how things would get better.
All in all, it was a campaign-style event. And the president seemed to relish the cheers from the crowd. One woman even asked him if he would commit now to running for a second term.
“If I could get done what I think needs to get done in four years, even if it meant that I was only president for four years, I would rather be a good president taking on the tough issues for four years, than a mediocre president for eight years,” he said.
Mr. Obama won California in November by a wide margin. But even though he got a warm welcome, the region he visited Wednesday – Orange County – remains a Republican bastion. An overwhelming majority there voted in the last presidential election for John McCain.