Did Robert Rubin apologize? You be the judge.
Did he or didn’t he? Headline writers seemed torn Friday over whether Bob Rubin actually apologized during his testimony to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission this week. The Financial Times headline read, “Ex-Citi chiefs apologise for losses.” The Washington Post agreed: “Citgroup executives apologize for not averting financial crisis.” But the New York Times dissented with, “Contrition, and Lack of It, at Citigroup Hearing,” concluding that former Citi CEO Charles Prince had apologized, but that Rubin had not. Who’s right?
As always, Seinfeld offers relevant moral instruction. My wife Jody, looking at the papers Friday, said the headline clash reminded her of the classic Seinfeld apology episode from 1997. In that show, George wants an apology from Jason, a recovering alcoholic who insulted him a few years back, and who now, as part of his 12-step AA program, needs to make amends with those he wronged while on the booze. When pushed, however, Jason offers a classic non-apology apology (“I’m so sorry I didn’t want your rather bulbous head struggling to find its way through the normal-size neckhole of my finely knit sweater”) so George confronts him later at the ice cream shop where Jason works.
“I’ve thought it over,” Jason tells George. “My apology... was sarcastic and rude and you deserved much better.”
George isn’t satisfied. “I’m not sure if technically what you just said was actually an apology.”
Just then Jason says “I’m sorry” to a customer.
“There it is, you just said it!” George screams. “That’s what I want, now say it again!”
Back to Citigroup. With former Citigroup chairman Charles Prince, there’s no question: The man went off his written testimony at the outset to offer what the Times called an “abject apology.” “Let me start by saying I'm sorry,” Prince said. “I'm sorry the financial crisis has had such a devastating impact on our country. I'm sorry for the millions of people, average Americans, who have lost their homes. And I'm sorry that our management team, starting with me, like so many others, could not see the unprecedented market collapse that lay before us.”
But, as the Times noted, “Mr. Rubin stopped short of accepting personal responsibility.” The word “sorry” did not pass his lips. As The Post noted, Rubin “framed the breakdown at Citigroup and other companies as a collective failure, in which ‘almost all of us… missed the powerful combination of forces at work and the serious possibility of a massive crisis. We all bear responsibility for not recognizing this, and I deeply regret that.’"
Apology? Or no? It would fun to hear a ruling from Larry David, who wrote much of Seinfeld and was the model for George’s character. PostPartisan readers should weigh in with their verdict themselves. Whatever your take, one thing is clear: neither Prince nor Rubin apologized for making more than $100 million each before handing off a wrecked Citigroup to the rest of us for billions in bailouts. On that, we’re still waiting.
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