Goldman Sachs CEO Embraces Marriage Equality: A Good PR Move?

The Human Rights Campaign’s push for marriage equality follows the PR-savvy methods of similar campaigns, like the It Gets Better project. Boldfaced names from politics, sports, and entertainment star in video testimonials to express support for the right to marry, regardless of gender. The latest videos feature Anna Wintour, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and Lloyd Blankfein.

That’s right, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO and Chairman, has publicly embraced a hot-button social issue that, on the surface, has little to do with Goldman’s business. He is, in fact, the first national corporate spokesperson for marriage equality.
It’s an unusual position, particularly for a financial executive. For every Howard Schultz, there are probably a thousand public-company CEOs who shun controversy at all costs. Particularly in today’s polarized political climate, keeping your head down is good risk management.

Or is it? Many have speculated that Blankfein’s position is a PR strategy. But what’s the goal? To humanize the great and terrible “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”? Maybe he was advised to embrace marriage equality because it’s a safe bet, being practically a fait accompli. Or, as Matt Taibbi, the guy who birthed the “vampire squid” meme, writes, perhaps it’s Goldman’s plan to seduce liberals by embracing a socially progressive cause that is risk-free and “utterly inexpensive.” Could it also be the equivalent of Newt Gingrich’s moon colony — a clever distraction from darker and more complicated issues?

All are possible, of course. But if it’s a PR ploy, it’s an odd choice of issue. And according to news reports, Blankfein is a longtime supporter of gay rights who agreed to the HRC gig after being approached by a Goldman employee who’s engaged in the issue.

I’m as cynical as the next person, but, to me, the whole thing has the earmarks of personal conviction. Not because Blankfein is a good guy or a social progressive (though he may or may not be either), but because he’s a shrewd judge of talent and also serves as Goldman’s Recruiter-in-Chief.  Blankfein is a businessman above all, and what he and his company value over all things is the storied, performance-driven Goldman culture. So, for my money, it’s not really a PR play, but a move that coincides with Goldman’s own interests, and that probably has the additional benefit of being authentic. Imagine that.

Maybe, just maybe, Blankfein wants to send a message that performance is sex-blind, and that non-discrimination is simply good business.

The Goldman Sachs Hearings: A Sh**ty Deal For Taxpayers

What more is there to say about this week’s financial hearings? Goldman Sachs executives, including the infamous “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, were grilled, lectured, and scolded by members of a Senate panel in a much-anticipated spectacle this week. But, instead of Watergate redux, the hearings played out more like a group of middle school principals rebuking eighth-graders.

Sure, the Goldman lieutenants were evasive in their answers. Their strategy amounted to trying to run out the clock while pretending to search through huge binders for email printouts. In fact, there’s a funny video mash-up of the stalling and funfering on the Huffington Post. But, to me, the hearings were a PR miss for the panel. The day didn’t damage Goldman’s reputation as much as it embarrassed the Senators who were supposedly in charge.

And not just because it was a master class in political grandstanding. What bothered me was that when Blankfein finally took the hot seat, he actually seemed to know what he was talking about. As smug and defensive as some of his answers were, they pointed up the chasm between his grasp of the issues and that of the panel members. As Senator Jon Tester put it, “It’s like we’re speaking a different language.”

I don’t expect the Senate members to be derivatives experts, even with 18 months to prepare. But, there weren’t many legal or interrogation skills on display either. What does it say about the prospects for real and constructive financial reform that the best our Senators could come up with was used car and casino metaphors and lectures about client service ethics? They seemed out of touch, self-serving, and a bit simple.

Senator John Ensign, currently under investigation for ethics violations himself, was a poor choice for the panel. Senator Carl Levin made a tactical error by endlessly repeating an email description of a “sh**ty deal” the bank was trying to sell a client instead of asking the author of the email to read his own words. The wobbly-voiced Senator Susan Collins chewed up time by chewing out the executives for…well, for chewing up time. Your tax dollars at work.

Perhaps it’s a moot, point, as the Goldman case will almost certainly be settled. And, as entertainment, the hearings gave us a pretty good show. For the legislators, the day may have even helped channel populist outrage into the theatre of democracy. But, unfortunately, good theatre is about all it was. And, that’s a sh**ty deal for the rest of us.