I was unable to watch J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s Senate testimony live the other day, so I had to get up yesterday morning and check it out on the Banking Committee’s web site. I had an inkling, from the generally slavish news reports about the hearing that started to come out Wednesday night, that it would be a hard thing to watch.
But I wasn’t prepared for just how bad it was. If not for Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who was the only senator who understood the importance of taking the right tone with Dimon, the hearing would have been a total fiasco. Most of the rest of the senators not only supplicated before the blowdried banker like love-struck schoolgirls or hotel bellhops, they also almost all revealed themselves to be total ignoramuses with no grasp of the material they were supposed to be investigating.
That most of them had absolutely no conception of even the basics of the derivatives market was obvious. But what was even more amazing was that several of them had serious trouble even reading aloud the questions their more learned staffers prepared for them. Many seemed to be reading their own questions for the first time.
It would be one thing if this had been a bunch of hick congressmen from the plains asking a panel of MIT professors about, say, ozone depletion, or the potential dangers of nuclear fallout. But these were members of the Senate Banking Committee, asking Dimon questions as though he were an alien from another world: "Tell us, Mr. CEO, what is this ‘derivative trading’ to which you refer? How long has it been in use on your planet?" The whole tenor of the proceeding was incredibly embarrassing, and showed just how unlikely it is that you’ll ever get anything like real questioning in a Senate hearing when a) the level of general expertise among the members is so shamefully low, and b) the witness is a man who controls millions of dollars of campaign contributions.