Interesting - I note that Bernanke's second term is meeting some resistance in the Senate. While I don't necessarily have all the tools to judge his performance one way or the other, I have to say that this is largely and obviously just a symbolic gesture. (Really, aren't they all?) This has much more to do with assuaging populist rage (a rage which I admittedly share) against the excesses of Wall Streeet than whether or not the man has done the correct things to sustain the type of Capitalist marketplace we supposedly favor in this country.
And while much has been made of the hypocritical behavior of the large financial institutions both wanting and needing Federal funds to stay afloat - 'Socialism!' scream the pundits - very little has been made of the similarly non-Capitalist idea among the general population that People. Need. To. Be. Punished.
Look. I have less than no love for the people in charge of these investment banks and the bloodthirsty culture they embody. In fact, I have no idea why anyone was surprised this has happened - if you've ever met an investment banker of this type, you know that the idea of jamming a room full of them could only result in and endless series of stupid and short-sighted decisions. But greed and idiocy aren't crimes in and of themselves. And it doesn't appear as if anything in the way of actual law-breaking occurred here. In fact, what was really proven to us yet again was that the idea of a marketplace as free as possible from 'Government Interference and Regulations! (scream the pundits)' is a danger to these institutions and to the economy as a whole.
So: this need for divine retribution is - while understandable - counterproductive and entirely misfocused. Much in the same way that the anger, fear and patriotic fervor post 9/11 was used to push the Iraq War through a Congress afraid of losing their seats on the populist tide, the anger and essential mistrust of 'Wall Street' that Americans feel is once again driving Congress to act rashly in response. And rather than looking inward for the strength to impose the strong regulations that our economic system needs to survive and thrive, they're instead once again burning a straw man in effigy. I guess, if I were to continue the Iraq analogy here, that Bernanke would be Hussein, and AIG would be Al-Qaeda, except in this case, Bernanke and AIG actually were working together after all.
Why I find all of it hypocritical on the part of the American people is in the weird application of morality to Capitalism. Look, it's pretty simple: Capitalism in it's rawest form is about as amoral as things get. You cannot hold those who operate within its structures accountable for doing things wrong that were not, in fact, 'wrong.' My friend Jim, when losing at Risk, has been known to declare a "nuclear strike!" and drop a heavy object on the board from a few feet above, scattering all the pieces and effectively ending the game. That's what the Bernanke confirmation kerfuffle is, really: the American people are a bunch of sore losers at the game of Capitalism and we want to completely ignore the rules and just have our satisfaction of watching other people squirm. Thing is, we're largely sore for the same reason Jim was when he was losing: we're lousy players.
As for Bernanke himself: very lucky for you that Bank of America announced early repayment of their stimulus funds today, sir. Yes, very lucky.