The Army-McCarthy Hearings
On June 9, 1954, in what was known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings, Senator Joseph McCarthy was dramatically taken down by Joseph Welch, a Hale & Dorr lawyer representing the Army, after McCarthy’s attack on a young associate of Welch for associating with an alleged communist front, famously saying:
"Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
(Do not miss the video here).
It didn’t take long for that several minute interaction to become an iconic moment—the downfall of a demagogue, and the inflection point in a nation’s shift from shrill commie-phobia to a lower-temperature Cold War.
The Watergate Hearings
Cut to the summer of 1973. Tennessee’s Senator Howard Baker captured the iconic moment of the Watergate Hearings when he first said “The question is—what did the President know, and when did he know it?”
That phrase encapsulated the disbelief and revulsion that a nation felt as it’s head of state was deeply implicated in an ongoing illegal coverup of a sleazy burglary.
To me, the Senate Iran-Contra Hearings didn’t measure up to the previous two. The only statement I remember is, “What am I, a potted plant?” voiced by Ollie North’s lawyer.
And now we have the Goldman Hearings. Will they measure up? Will they stand the test of iconic history?
Do the Goldman Hearings Measure Up?
To become a top-ranked iconic Senate Hearing, two things must happen at the same time: there has to be a major shift going on in society, and someone must utter a clever turn of words that encapsulates the shift. Only history will tell if the Goldman Hearings end up in the top ranks: but if they do, which moment will turn out to have been the clincher?
The awards in this category are called The Ikes, for Iconic Moment. There are three nominees for the Ike in this hearing.
Log in below to vote for your favorite. Vote for:
Candidate Moment A: Caveat Emptor vs. Fiduciary Responsibility
Senator Susan Collins: Could you give me a yes or no to whether or not you considered yourself to have a duty to act in the best interests of your clients?
Daniel Sparks: I believe we have a duty to serve our clients well.
If this moment takes the Ike, it will be because we have evolved away from the deification of market forces as self-correcting to a view that businesses have some social responsibilities, particularly to customers. As a corporate business model, the trader’s ethos of pure competition and markets will have been judged in adequate to run serious economy-critical business organizations.
Candidate Moment B: The Legal vs. the Ethical
Senator Carl Levin: If your employees think that it’s crap—that it’s a shitty deal—do you think that Goldman Sachs ought to be selling that to customers…when you heard [your employees saying] what a shitty deal, god what a piece of crap—when you read about those emails, do you feel anything?
Goldman CFO Viniar: I think that’s very unfortunate to have on email.
If this moment wins the Ike, it will be because the nation is fed up with hair-splitting legal defenses in response to unethical behavior. Viniar’s instinctive response belied a selfish and self-oriented view of navigating the legal thickets, unimpaired by ethical concerns.
Candidate Moment C: Ego and Hubris Gone Wild
This is actually an email preceding the hearing, from “Fabulous Fab” Goldman VP Fabrice Tourre: The whole building is about to collapse any time now. Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab.”
If this becomes the Iconic Moment Winner, it will be because “Fab” personifies the abstract: this is what the “best and brightest” have figured out to do? And this guy is what they turned into?
So, what’s your vote? What moment will take home the “Ike” Award for Iconic Moment of the Goldman Hearings?