Grassley to financial executives: drop dead

You know what America needs?  It needs to instill the notion that when you've screwed up, the appropriate thing to do is kill yourself.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley suggested on Monday that AIG executives should take a Japanese approach toward accepting responsibility for the collapse of the insurance giant by resigning or killing themselves.

The Republican lawmaker's harsh comments came during an interview with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, radio station WMT. They echo remarks he has made in the past about corporate executives and public apologies, but went further in suggesting suicide.

"I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed," Grassley said. "But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.

This is in the same class as joking about prison rape of financial executives--or anyone else.  Suicide is an appalling tragedy.  If you think we should have the death penalty for AIG executives, go ahead and introduce a bill to that effect.  But joking about it is sick.  People don't kill themselves because that's the honorable thing to do when you've failed badly; they kill themselves because something bad has happened and they have an uncontrolled mental illness.  Creating a public culture that reinforces the belief that suicide is the correct response to the deep shame, guilt, and sense of worthlessness that accompanies depression isn't a good idea.  It's certainly not funny.  And this kind of macho performance art where we compete to come up with ever-worse fates to wish on financial executives is frankly a little sickening.  When did our primary national pasttime become hate?

I know what is going to happen in these comments threads, and I would like to suggest that before you press "submit" on that ever-so-righteous endorsement of the notion that financial executives should off themselves, you talk to someone who has attempted suicide, or had a friend or loved one who succeeded.  Find out just how often those people seem to have believed that they were doing the "honorable" thing by relieving the world of the burden of their presence.  What you suggest in three minutes of "gee aren't I clever" typing means a lot of other people paying with a lifetme of grief.  Consider, too, that by suggesting that suicide was an honorable solution to a big problem, Grassley may well have already provided some listener with a big problem the final reason he needed to end it all.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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