In the early fall of 2008, America’s financial system nearly collapsed. Some of Wall Street’s biggest corporations had engaged in what President George W. Bush called “irresponsible actions” that caused widespread panic. Eventually, the situation became precarious enough to warrant action by the federal government in the American free-enterprise system. The federal government’s plan was to use $700 billion dollars of taxpayer money to resolve the crisis and bailout Wall Street. President George W. Bush addressed the nation on September 24, 2008 to propose the bailout through a joint congressional bill. The federal government promised that the bailout, while costly to American taxpayers, was essential to the maintenance of the financial system, and that the “irresponsible actions” of Wall Street executives would not be ignored (C-SPAN 2). Many American taxpayers begrudgingly agreed in 2008 that the federal government’s plan to bailout Wall Street was necessary; however, the burden of funding the bailout and empty promises made by the federal government eventually led to a high degree of taxpayer dissatisfaction.
In Daryl Cagle’s humorous depiction of the 2008 bailout, Uncle Sam struggles under the weight of Wall Street. Uncle Sam, a symbol of American taxpayers, is depicted as small and skinny. He holds the entire weight of a fat pig, representative of Wall Street coporations, on his back. The Wall Street pig is dressed in a formal business suit and is accessorized with features of stereotypical Wall Street wealth, such as a large bag of money, a ring, and a cigar. President Bush, representing not only himself but the federal government at large, worriedly screams “Don’t worry! You’re going to be okay!” (Cagle) This is humorous because the President Bush character is much more worried about the rich pig than the burden the pig places on Uncle Sam. This cartoon reflects the American taxpayer sentiment of dissatisfaction about the actions by the federal government and the consequences of the bailout.
The financial crisis of 2008 spurned the need for government action and the bailout. President Bush summarized how the crisis came about in his speech to the American people in the midst of the chaos in 2008. President Bush explained the crisis started when Wall Street lenders, including banks and insurance companies, began giving credit to individuals who could in no way afford the mortgages on the homes they purchased. The good housing market led to a boom in housing construction resulting in a surplus of new homes. This surplus caused the housing market to fall, and many homeowners were stuck with mortgages they could not pay and homes they could not sell. As a result, the institutions that had lent the homeowners the money began to fail. In addition, many of these institutions had invested in mortgage-back securities which are risky investments. According to President Bush, these securities allowed the investors of Wall Street to borrow “huge sums of money, fuel the market for questionable investments, and put our financial system at risk”. He then told Americans that action by the federal government was now vital and explained his administration’s proposal that Congress pass a bill for a bailout funded with $700 billion dollars in taxpayer money (C-SPAN 2). Congress passed H.R. 1424, called the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, in early October 2008 (United States).
President Bush placed the blame of the crisis on Wall Street, which satisfied Americans. The unsatisfactory part of the bailout for taxpayers was that they were expected to cover the expenses of Wall Street’s mistake. While many middle class taxpayers opposed having to pay $700 billion dollars to protect what they saw as money-hungry businessmen, President Bush’s many promises made the bailout more easy for taxpayers to understand. For example, in his speech, he promised that there would be consequences for the Wall Street executives responsible for the crisis and that all taxpayer money would be paid back (C-SPAN 2). Regardless, many taxpayers felt that an unfair burden was being placed upon them as reflected in Cagle’s struggling Uncle Sam character. The Los Angeles Times released a poll in late September 2008 that showed fifty-five percent of Americans opposed the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the bailout (Bensinger). Other Americans showed their dissatisfaction through protest. On September 25, 2008 protestors gathered outside of Wall Street to demonstrate their opposal to the federal government’s plan. AFLCIO president John Sweeney told reporters, “We want our tax dollars used to provide a hand up for the millions of working people who live on Main Street and not a handout to a privileged band of overpaid executives” (Weissner). This statement by Sweeney reflects the sentiment of Cagle’s cartoon. Taxpayers felt that not only were they burdened with the costs of funding the bailout, but also that the federal government was essentially giving the hard earned money of average Americans to the already very wealthy executives of Wall Street.
Lack of follow through on promises by the federal government caused even more dissatisfaction with the bailout. As earlier presented, President Bush promised that the bailout was not a handout to Wall Street but rather a way to save America’s financial system (C-SPAN 2). This perhaps made it easier for some Americans to agree to support the bailout. However, this sentiment changed greatly in the aftermath of the bailout. President Bush relayed to Americans in his 2008 speech that top executives on Wall Street knowingly made risky investments, were responsible for the crisis, and would face consequences for those actions. However, this proved to be an empty promise. The New York Times released an article in 2011 addressing this very issue: “no senior executives have been charged or imprisoned, and a collective government effort has not emerged” (Story). Three years after the bailout, no executives had been criminally prosecuted. In fact, many of the institutions that had received money from the bailout actually gave their top executives large bonuses in 2008. Representatives from these institutions told ABC News that the bonuses were given to executives to entice them to stay on as executives at the institutions (Bernard). This apparent free pass given to Wall Street, in addition to taxpayer money, caused even more dissatisfaction from Americans on the bailout. A joint poll released by CBS and the New York Times five years after the bailout in 2013 showed that over sixty percent of Americans did not support the bailout and over eighty percent felt that Wall Street had not faced harsh enough consequences for its risky actions and investments (Kopicki). This sentiment is reflective of Cagle’s cartoon. Americans truly felt that Wall Street was a greedy and already wealthy group that not only was saved by the federal government at the expense of regular taxpayers, but also faced practically no repercussions for its actions.
As similarly depicted in John Knott’s 1937 cartoon, “How About Sharing The Load”, American taxpayers are depicted struggling to carry what they perceive to be an unfair burden imposed on them by the federal government. In Knott’s cartoon, a figure labeled “taxpayer” struggles to carry a large bundle labeled “expenses of government”. Another man labeled “public jobholder” looks on while smirking because he has a piece of paper in his pocket labeled “income tax exemption” (Knott). This cartoon refers to the nation-wide public dissent from American taxpayers concerning federal tax exemptions for government job holders. While both these depictions reflect strikingly similar sentiments and widespread dissatisfaction from Americans, these two situations in American history have reaped different outcomes. In the case of the 1937 federal income taxes, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sentiments reflected those of the American population; therefore, he was able to use his influence as president to help ensure change in the form of ending the exemptions. In the case of the 2008 bailout, however, President Bush felt that the burden placed upon American taxpayers was not as great as the importance of the financial crisis on Wall Street, so he was able to use his influence as president to perpetuate the passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 despite public dissent.
The financial crisis of 2008 was a large source of public dissatisfaction for average Americans in the early 21st century. While some Americans agreed to support the federal government’s plan to use $700 billion dollars of taxpayer money to bailout many Wall Street corporations in 2008 with promises of punishment for Wall Street, the lack of consequences for Wall Street corporations and executives caused many of those to join with their fellow Americans in widespread public dissatisfaction for the bailout. Cartoonists John Knott and Daryl Cagle both reflect public dissent in their respective cartoons by depicting American taxpayers as struggling under a financial burden set upon them by the federal government. Unfortunately, public dissent and frustration did little to reap any kind of change in the 2008 bailout compared to how it did in the 1937 federal tax exemption issue. Despite this recent unfortunate outcome, Americans should still be encouraged to voice their opinions to federal government officials in order to keep the average American spoken for as the 21st century progresses.
C-SPAN 2. “George Bush Wall Street Bailout.” 24 Sept. 2008, Washington D.C., White House.
Cagle, Daryl. “Wall Street Bailout Pig.” DarylCagle.com, darylcagle.com/2008/09/23/wall-street-bailout-pig/.
United States, Congress, Cong. House, Energy and Commerce; Education and Labor; Ways and Means. “Congress.gov.” Congress.gov, 110ADAD. 110th Congress, bill H.R. 1424, www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/house-bill/1424.
Bensinger | Times Staff Writer, Ken. “Masses Aren’t Buying Bailout.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 26 Sept. 2008, articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/26/business/fi-voxpop26.
Weisnerr, Christian. “Labor Leaders Decry Bailout.” National Post, 26 Sept. 2008, www-lexisnexis-com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/hottopics/lnacademic/p. A10.
Story, Gretchen Morgenson and Louise. “In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures.”The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/04/14/business/14prosecute.html.
Bernard, Stephen, and Business Writer. “Bailed-out Banks Gave Millions in Exec Bonuses, NY AG Report Shows.” ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=8214818&page=1.
Kopicki, Allison. “Five Years Later, Poll Finds Disapproval of Bailout.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Sept. 2013, economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/26/five-years-later-poll-finds-disapproval-of-bailout/.
Knott, John. “How About Sharing The Load?” Dallas Morning News 10 April 1937, sec 2: 2. Print.