Of course, it doesn’t take much to spark bickering in Washington. So for those sick of it -- even the people doing it say they are -- the less potential fuel for the fire, the better. Which means it’s a relief that the massive AIG bailout in late 2008 happened during the Bush II administration. Had it been the handiwork of President Obama, cable news airwaves might be loaded with conservatives accusing the giant insurer of being in the pocket of the Obama administration. Accusations might be flying that AIG is looking to help the president win upcoming battles by demonstrating just how wise he’s been in handling economic matters.
The AIG bashing would call to mind what transpired after the Clint Eastwood-starring Chrysler ad in the last Super Bowl, where the legend spoke about Detroit’s comeback. Many on the right rightfully viewed it as an endorsement of the Obama administration’s auto-industry bailout. They said Chrysler was trying to repay the president with an early campaign ad.
(Eastwood -- or at least the people around him -- had to know that reaction would be coming. Which made it completely baffling when it emerged he was a Romney supporter with his appearance at the GOP convention alongside an empty chair.)
AIG has just launched a two-week, multimedia campaign seeking to reintroduce itself after its role in sparking the Great Recession. The company got an $85 billion bailout as the government took about an 80% stake.
It became a symbol of all that had gone wrong with the world’s financial system. A survey in 2008 asking people what comes to mind when hearing the letters “AIG” might have found “toxic assets” number one.
So, more than four years later with its advertising, AIG is seeking to brand itself as responsible with upright citizens who make good on promises. Its Carolina-blue (sky-blue for Duke fans) logo is on display all over the place in the new “Thank You America” blitz.
There are home page takeovers on sites like Yahoo, a YouTube “roadblock” and print ads in some of the company’s largest newspapers. It’s also not skimping on TV, with spots set for the NFL playoffs and Golden Globes, along with the premier college football bowl games, “60 Minutes” and leading morning shows.
The TV spots are compelling. The company says it’s working to help those suffering after the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo. and recent Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast. Plus, it notes it’s the “lead insurer” for the new World Trade Center in Manhattan.
But the centerpiece is an attempt to persuade people it received a hand-up not a handout. Employees hammer home that AIG has repaid taxpayers every cent it received and even made them $22 billion richer.
“We made a commitment to repay and we did -- and gave America a profit,” one of them says. “Pretty proud of that.”
People who were opposed to the bailouts are unlikely to be persuaded by AIG’s pitch. (Who’s to say the government couldn’t have done even better by its people by investing the money some other way?) While AIG’s turnaround may not have been easy, the fact it could become so profitable so soon speaks to how poorly it was mismanaged and again raises the question why such neglect gave way to a rescue.
But since that occurred before the current president took office, it’s hard for opponents to make the case that AIG’s “Thank You America” implicitly carries a “Thank You Obama” message.