The Goldman Hearings: Who’ll Take Home the Iconic Moment Award?

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?
 

6 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    Hard to chose between the first two. Fabulous Fab is a throw away.

    I believe Canidate A is a true statement.  I believe canidate B reflects the see change in society as people and leaders are begining to realize that legal is not the same as ethical. And we miss ethical.

     

     

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  2. Sims Wyeth
    Sims Wyeth says:

    Charlie,

    I’m going to color outside the lines and say that my favorite moment of clever word-smithing was when a senator (don’t know which) said to the CEOs of the big banks:

    "What you guys did was basically sell a used car with bad brakes to a teenager and then take out a life insurance policy on the guy!"

    So far, that’s the Ike moment for me.

    Sims

     

     

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  3. Lance E. Osborne
    Lance E. Osborne says:

    Charlie,

    You (and Sims) have posed a difficult challenge.

    I keep hearing Reichheld’s "bad profits" ringing in my ears in regards to your "A" and Sims’ "D." And, to paraphrase some recent teenager movie whose title escapes me, "C" made me throw up a little in my mouth.

     

    So, I have to go with "B!" It’s subtle, but reading between the lines in "B" provides a clear view into the unabashed dark-side of our modern corporate world: dismiss the clearly unethical act by bemoaning the fact that it was captured for all to see. “Damn, if we had only erased all our emails.”

     

    Yes, I voted for “B” but I have to put a plug in for another short but telling quote. Remember this answer?

    “$9 million”

    Question: “What was your bonus this last year?”

     

    Thanks for asking.

    Cheers,

    LEO

     

    Reply
  4. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Voting won’t matter, its a "push".

    Isn’t it ironic that at this very moment w/all of this going on, we have financial service firms conducting the same type of questionable deals this time w/ muni bonds. As the saying goes… they’re managing their risk. To add insult to injury, we have legislators saying we shouldn’t be regulating any of this! Remind me please ’cause I missed it…when did the inmates take over the asylum???

    Reply
  5. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    I can’t recall the players as I was listening/and wasn’t…..but the moment at which I had to stop what I was doing and do a double take is when one of the committee members pointed out the fact that one employee referred to the products they were selling as "crap" and the like, and asked the panelist what he thought about that…and the panelist responded with (paraphrasing) "those comments/thoughts/judgments…shouldn’t have been in an email…"
     

    Knee-jerk response or not, probably more unconscious than conscious…interesting how our motives and values drive our priorities.

    Reply
  6. Dan
    Dan says:

    I vote for Moment A, but disagree with the analysis (and typo "in adequate"). 

    Without a common definition and equal understanding of context, "best interests" is not just a meaningless phrase, it’s actual dangerous. As counter-intuitive as it may seem to housewives, firemen, bloggers, Senators and apparently anyone else not in the industry, there are times when losing $1B is the desired outcome! A truth that could’ve been made clear in under 15 minutes.

    Daniel Sparks tried to explain the proper context to elevate the session from a Faustian you-are-evil-no-I-am-not grade school back and forth into a productive exchange of information and ideas, but that was NOT on the Senator’s agenda that day.  

     

    My #1 vote would’ve been for a moment in which an expert was interrupted mid-explanation. Because if history labeled that a turning point, it meant elected officials learned that listening can yield information and knowledge that circumvents agenda and pre-hearing conclusions. 

     

    In my opinion, it is unethical in the extreme to corral experts, swear them in, put them on the record, on television and interrupt them just because they aren’t giving the answers you’ve already decided you want to hear. 

     

    Reply

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