Susan Antilla is a financial columnist for Bloomberg News and author of Tales From the Boom-Boom Room: The Landmark Legal Battles That Exposed Wall Street's Shocking Culture of Sexual Harassment.
Getting picked on by competitors, politicians or the media who are accusing you of igniting the financial crisis? Just do what everyone else does: deflect.
"There is more than enough blame to go around," Goldman Sachs
"It's easy to pile on the mortgage industry when there's enough blame to go around for everybody," Scott Norman, vice president of the Texas Mortgage Bankers Association, told the Dallas Business Journal in December.
"Green shoots" may be hands-down winner of the Most Overused Expression of the Financial Crisis Award, but variations on the "more than enough blame" line stand out for their slippery ability to help the speaker sound like he is taking responsibility while deftly pointing a finger elsewhere. The tired saying also has provided a handy crutch for writers and politicians bereft of anything specific to say about who's really at fault.
Bankers and businesspeople are to blame
Blankfein dropped the enough-to-go-around notion in the self-serving context of justifying a pitch to lawmakers that they should leave his business alone when they set about reforming the financial system. No need to abandon derivatives, he said. Indeed, the Crisis Commission has "rightly" focused on bad lending standards in the housing market, Blankfein said, closing with the handy "enough blame to go around" copout. It left a vague impression that he was taking responsibility even as Blankfein was suggesting that the real fault rested with real estate lenders.
But certainly not the real estate lenders who Norman, the Texas Mortgage Bankers guy, has run across. He told his local business newspaper that there were already adequate regulations on mortgage bankers, punctuating his point, too, with the "enough blame to go around for everybody" dodge.
When Henry Paulson was Treasury secretary in the heat of the crisis in September of 2008, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio inquired at a banking committee hearing whether Paulson thought Wall Street owed the American people an apology. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs responded that he shared "the outrage people have," but that there was "a lot of," well, you know, to go around. He cited irresponsible lenders, regulators, rating agencies, and individuals who took out loans that they shouldn't have as the culprits.
A big shot who weighed in with the phrase early in the financial crisis was Home Depot
The media are to blame
Journalists fall back on the blame silliness, too. William Cohan, author of House of Cards, told PBS in March 2009 that "there is a lot of blame to go around," and cited the ineffectual Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to regulate. Cavuto, perhaps inspired by Langone's overuse of the phrase, used it in interviews with New York Congressman Gregory Meeks ("Will you admit there's enough blame to go around?") on September 18, 2008, with Connecticut Congressman Christopher Shays ("There is certainly a lot of blame to go around") on October 9, 2008, and with Vermont Congressman Peter Welch ("There's enough blame to go around, sir") on January 15, 2010.
Politicians are to blame, too
And then there are the politicians. NBC's David Gregory asked White House economic advisor Dr. Christina Romer on December 13 whether Wall Street was to blame for the crisis. "You know, I think there's a lot of blame to go around," she said, inexplicably following with a statement that suggested the blame was anything but "all around," and instead lay precisely with Wall Street.
It wouldn't be a modern-day cliche unless it had at least occasionally been uttered by the former vice-presidential candidate from Alaska, and Sarah Palin managed to pack the "blame" concept into one television interview response three times, albeit in a rant about the fiscal mistakes of the George W. Bush administration, not the financial crisis. She told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that there was "plenty of blame to go around," with the administration, and added that there was "plenty of blame to go around" with respect to the Democratic-led Congress as well. And Obama voted "94 times for higher taxes on Americans -- now, there's some blame to go there, too," Palin said.
Swipes at politicians for their fiscal policies are one thing. On matters of the financial crisis, though, we are doomed if we can't get past the evasive dopiness of citing nameless players of whom there are apparently "plenty." Real people paid for the lobbyists, made the legal decisions and did the trades that all but put the economy over the abyss. It's time to attach names from now on when we pontificate that there's some blame to go around.
You can start by naming some names in the comments section below.