Orbital Matters

Saturn Smith
JULY 20, 2009 6:22PM

The Delicious Jamie Dimon: Obama's "Favorite Banker"

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I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the other evening, and spent some time crowd watching.  While I was disappointed that no one wore a costume, my fellow women didn't let me down when Alan Rickman appeared. Twice when Mr. Rickman's character, Professor Snape, uttered his dripping-with-disdain indictments of young Potter, the women in the audience tittered with glee.  In the books, of course, Snape is nothing like the rather dashing, robe-swirling figure that Rickman cuts on screen -- he's crooked-nosed, sallow-skinned, unhealthy, creepy.  Rickman's Snape, though, is perfectly delicious, and not in part because he plays such a villain (albeit, yes, an ambigious one -- no spoilers for the books in comments, please!). We do like our bad boys, America, don't we?

Jamie Dimon before CongressI'm wondering if perhaps Rahm Emanuel and the Obama White House are having the same so-bad-he's-good attraction to Jamie Dimon, the head of J.P. Morgan Chase.  He has something of that same Rickman-esque shine to him, some of that same cape-twirling maybe-there's-hidden-good-there sleight of hand.  And, oh yeah, he's basically all-powerful these days.  The New York Times today has a piece calling Dimon "President Obama's favorite banker."  In William D. Cohan's detailed account of the fall of Bear Stearns, there's a nice explanation of why Dimon might be so favored: Before he was the president's favorite, he was Tim Geithner's Knight in Shining Armani, the man who stepped away from his own star-studded birthday party to "save" Bear from a tulmultous, Lehman-like collapse.

That quick save has ultimately benefited JPMC, which has since also gobbled up Washington Mutual when it went into FDIC receivership -- an acquisition that some charge was political and illegal.  Is it convenience, politics, or necessity that pushed the nation's largest failed bank into the nation's largest bank's arms?  Something tells me Mr. Dimon worked to make sure it was a combination.

As the NYT points out, Dimon was a major contributor to the Democratic party in the last election -- to the tune of over $50,000 to the DNC, and the legal max to Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, and, yes, Congressman Rahm Emanuel.  (Dimon also gave to Eric Cantor, Norm Coleman, and the RNC, though in smaller doses).  Great!  Glad he could help -- but his continued access, and his self-definition as an "honest broker," should be giving a lot of people pause.

Jamie Dimon can't be an honest broker.  He's simply a broker -- a banker -- a man with an enormous company to run.  Maybe, in the tradition of J.P. Morgan, he sees his role as something broader.  Fantastic.  Nice for him.  But the government shouldn't see him that way, and they shouldn't give JPMC favored banking status.  There's no conceivable defense for Rahm Emanuel speaking at the upcoming JPMC board meeting, particularly if he's going there to deliver a big Thank You for the support JPMC has offered in the past year.

Of the current CEOs of the major banks and bank-like entities, maybe Dimon deserves to be at the top of the heap -- but I hope everyone remembers that the heap he's atop is a pretty smelly mess of garbage and financial carcasses. 

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Is anything done with skill anymore? Or is it all done with political connections?

Don't worry, I already know the answer...
Alan Rickman brings a magic of his own. I'm glad you get it, Jane; I can't explain it to anyone who doesn't.
I owe an update, here: Rahm Emanuel canceled his planned appearance at the board meeting, finally having figured out there might be a conflict of interest. Yay?
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