Robert Benmosche AIG president and chief executive Robert Benmosche in May 2010 (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

If you want an understanding of the persecution complex rife on well-heeled Wall Street, take a look at the interview American International Group Inc. Chief Executive Robert Benmosche did with the Wall Street Journal. Five years after American International Group received more than $170 billion in public money to keep it from going under and taking the global economy with it in 2008, Benmosche bemoans the uproar over the bonuses his employees received that year with a less-than-apt analogy.

That was ignorance … of the public at large, the government and other constituencies. I’ll tell you why. [Critics referred] to bonuses as above and beyond [basic compensation]. In financial markets that’s not the case. … It is core compensation. … [The uproar over bonuses] was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.

Just so we’re clear: The perceived persecution of highly paid workers on Wall Street with all the freedom and money in the world is “just as bad and just as wrong” as the actual persecution of African Americans in the restricted and restrictive Jim Crow South. No pun intended but this is rich.

That Benmosche could let something like that roll trippingly off his tongue is a testament to how out of touch he is. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same guy who complained to New York Magazine that neither the Federal Reserve nor the Treasury were sufficiently grateful to AIG for paying back the bailout money. “And do you know,” he said in a tone the magazine described as “indignant,” “neither of them have ever said ‘Thank you’?”

Where’s my pitchfork?

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