The Republic of T.

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The “I Got It Made” Smile

Todd Gitlin over at TPM Cafe has an interesting post up about Bernie Madoff’s smile.

Take a look at the NYT photo of Bernard Madoff arriving at court to hear a Federal judge uphold a lower-court decision that he may stay in his splendid apartment while out on $10 million bail.

…It’s his triumphant smile that interests me. Most Madoff photos display that same smile of controlled geniality. He knows all the angles. He knows how the game is played, that is, rigged. This is the smile of a man who knows. He knows the game. He knows you and he knows me. When he was ahead of the game, he basked in the glow of esteem. He relished the chance to grant favors. He prided himself in making his friends richer. When the house of cards collapsed, he was left standing. He believes that he will remain standing. He knows his good fortune has been to live in the right place at the right time to get his name engraved in cornerstones. He has probably worked out a way to feel like a martyr. Losers are schmucks. What he knows is what George W. Bush knows: God bless America, a country where he’s going to land on his feet.

This isn’t the same picture in the Times article, but the smile is pretty much the same. In fact, it’s better.

It’s understandable that people wonder, “What’s this guy got to smile about?” But this is a guy who effectively stole (at least) $50 billion. And he lived quite well while he carried out this theft.

There was the Upper East Side apartment, in a building where they go for upwards of $5 million.

In fact, there still is the Upper East Side apartment, since thats where he’s been under house arrest.

There’s a 55-foot yacht parked somewhere.

There’s two private planes: a Cessna Citation X…

And an Embraer business jet.

There’s the Palm Beach Mansion.

Plus beachfront property, country club memberships, etc.

This is a guy who took $250 ten days before his arrest, another $10 million six days before his arrest, which — again — he effectively stole. And he’s still out on bail?

Yes. That’s part of the reason for that smile. He’s still out on bail, even though he had about $173 million in checks ready to send out to friends and relatives, to stash till the heat was off of him, and violated bail by mailing off another $1 million in jewelry and watches for safe keeping. Plus he may have transferred up to $300 million worth of assets to keep them from being seized.

And the rest of his estimated $850 million in assets? Nobody can find it. Nobody knows how much there really is. Nobody except Bernie, that is.

Thus, the smile. He knows all of this is a mere formality, and when it’s all over he’ll be just fine.

I know that smile. I went to college with it. I saw it plastered across the face of every entitled frat boy who already knew his way was paved. These were the guys who drove BMW’s in college. (I got my folks’ old station wagon and was glad to get it.) They could stagger through most of of their education, graduate with a “gentleman’s C” — or even fail — and still be guaranteed a job in daddy’s firm or with one of their well-connected family’s friends. In fact, they knew, as Gitlin said above, that no matter how bad they mucked it up, they would land on their feet, and someone else would clean it up and pay the bill. They knew they couldn’t fail because they wouldn’t be allowed to fail.

And even when they muck it up on purpose, they can still smile, because they know they’re going to get away with it.

We’ve all lived with that smile for the last eight years. I call it The “I Got It Made” Smile. And it comes in many forms.

Sometimes it’s a smirk.

And nothing, not even numbers like these, can wipe it off.

Sometimes it’s a sneer.

Sometimes it’s a sly grin.

And not even the possibility of prosecution for war crimes can wipe it off.

Not even the reality of all they’ve done can wipe it off.

Whether it’s a smile, a smirk, a sneer, or a sly grin, it only and always has one thing to say.

“Yeah, I did it. And I’ll get away with it, too.”

What have these guys got to smile about? A lot.

That is, if they really do get away with it.

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