Neel Kashkari, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, got roasted by members of Congress when he appeared before a Congressional Committee on Friday, November 14, 2008. Mr. Kashkari oversees the Office of Financial Stability including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) or the US Bailout program.
Unfortunately for him, the TARP program seems to be in more trouble than the troubled assets it was supposed to buy.
On Wednesday, November 12, Secretary of Treasury, Henry Paulson changed the objectives and methods of this program again. The result was confusion and consternation. The Dow Jones fell over 400 points that day and overnight all Asian markets declined substantially.
The TARP program has been a public relations disaster and the Congress wanted answers. So, young Neel Kashkari was fed to the congressional lions and they devoured him. Unlike Henry Paulson, Neel Kashkari was a soft target, a perfect punching bag for the Congressmen. They treated him so badly that CNBC titled their clip “Lawmakers slam Kashkari”.
CNBC’s Dennis Kneale said it best when he remarked that the Congressman were slamming Assistant Secretary Kashkari because they were afraid to attack Secretary Paulson.
We are believers in Harry Truman’s dictum “if you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Mr. Kashkari was given a very high profile job by his boss. With such a job, comes scrutiny and heat. Mr. Kashkari had to face the heat and he did it with dignity.
But attacks on issues are one thing and personal abuse is another. Click on the clip below and watch Congressman Cummings ask “Is Kashkari a chump?” You be the judge whether the question by Congressman Cummings was a personally derogatory and abusive question.
We suggest that you watch the instantaneous reaction of the man sitting behind Congressman Cummings when he asks “Is Kashkari a chump?” That reaction says it all. (Does his seat directly behind the Congressman suggests that he is a member of the Congressman’s staff?).
To be fair to Congressman Cummings, a longer clip on YouTube provides a context to the question posed by Congressman Cummings. That longer clip (see below) also shows Congressman Cummings lecturing to Mr. Kashkari as if he were a child and virtually demeaning his intelligence.
We were outraged by the Congressman’s behavior. Try as we could, we were unable to recall any other Congressman ever suggesting that an Assistant Secretary of the United States Treasury could be construed as a chump.
So we called the office of the Congressman Cummings and left a message for his Press Secretary. We also followed up with an email. In that email, we asked a factual question “Has the Congressman asked such a question of any other Assistant Secretary of the Treasury or any other government official who was testifying before him? Also, has he asked such a question of any assistant secretary or any other government official in public or private?”
As a member of a small minority in America, we are sensitive to abusive behavior and derogatory questions or comments directed at minorities. We, as all Americans, have a debt of gratitude to the African American community which has patiently and successfully spearheaded the effort to make such behavior unacceptable in American Society. This is why we are pained to see a veteran African American Congressman like Mr. Cummings indulge in such abusive behavior towards another minority.
In our opinion, no white Congressman would ever ask a “chump” question of any black Assistant Secretary of Treasury. In fact, we do not believe any white teacher in any school could ask the “chump” question to any black student without instant and vitriolic condemnation.
Our conjecture is that Congressman Cummings would never ask the “chump” question of any White or Hispanic Assistant Secretary of State. These communities are large and powerful. Their response would be swift and damaging.
But Neel Kashkari is an Indian American. The Indian American community is tiny and inconsequential in a political sense. There is no Indian Anti-Defamation League that would marshal its resources and protest such behavior. So there is no political downside to abusing a young Indian American and no repercussions to worry about.
In addition, Kashkari is an unusual name. If you ask “Is Johnson a chump?” or “Is Smith a chump?”, you run the risk of insulting the large number of Johnsons and Smiths. But asking “Is Kashkari a chump?” has no downside. It might even make many of the Congressman’s constituents admire his wit.
Of course, these are simply our conjectures and not facts. That is why we reached out to the Congressman’s office to ask our question and to find out whether our conjectures were right or wrong.
You see if Congressman Cummings has asked “chump” type questions of other Assistant Secretaries of other races in the past, then that simply means that the Congressman is rude to people who appear before him as a matter of personality. That would be such a relief.
On the other hand, if it turns out that Neel Kashkari and Neel Kashkari alone was asked the “chump” question by Congressman Cummings, then that would raise a lot of questions as to why Mr. Cummings singled out Mr. Kashkari for such a derogatory comment. It could also lend a basis for our conjectures.
We tried to ask our question in a number of ways in an email exchange with the Congressman’s Press Secretary but did not get a satisfactory answer. The specific answer we received stated “This is ridiculous. The Congressman
has never asked anyone if he or she were a chump, just as he did not do it today”.
We leave it to our readers to judge whether the Congressman did or did not ask the chump question about Mr. Kashkari. They can do this by viewing the clip above or a longer clip of the hearing at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0voDipIvv8E
As far as we are concerned, we still do not know whether our conjectures are valid or invalid. We also leave it to our readers to judge that for themselves.
In the tradition of this blog, we invite Congressman Cummings or his Press Secretary to share their response, if any, with our readers. We will publish their response verbatim. They can either send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply put up a comment on this blog.
Editor’s Note: If any of our readers wish to contact Congressman Cummings directly, they can do so at Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, 2235 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; Phone (202) 225-4741 and Fax (202) 225-3178.
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