Just, wow. The official Chicago Tribune opinion on AIG is LEAVE AIG ALONE! LEAVE THEM ALONE!

“The government shouldn’t be in the business of creating a special tax to invalidate contracts between a company and its workers because it doesn’t like the outcome. The money was promised, it was paid. Trying to claw it back now will only encourage the talented people at any company that took federal help to look for a job elsewhere, preferably a place not so beholden to the whims of politicians and public anger.”

This is not a paid advertorial for the Illuminati; it’s the real-life opinion of the institution. I’m picturing Dorothy standing at the curtain thinking, “if I expose the Great and Powerful Oz, he might just blow up the city.”

I think there are three arguments here.

1. We can’t claw back the money on a strictly legal basis. But that’s not clear at all; there’s considerable disagreement.

2. We can’t claw back the money on a philosophical basis. Do tell that to the UAW.

3. We can’t claw back the money because the “talented people” who just blew up the world economy might have their feelings hurt and go blow it up again. This line is basically the AIG company line. Here are a couple other takes:

“Simon Johnson, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, has pointed out that in financial crises, bankers often exaggerate the difficulty of cleaning up their mess. They do so partly to justify their own continued importance and also to fight off calls for a government takeover of banks. In reality, Mr. Johnson says, the mechanics of cleaning up hobbled banks turned out to be fairly straightforward during other recent crises, like the Asian one in the ’90s.” – David Leonhardt

“The testaments to ‘the best and the brightest‘ – here, referring to the people of AIG Financial Products – reflect, I don’t know, either absolute, brazen obscenity, or a world-historical example of making the mistake of believing your own hype. The fact that people on Wall Street believe that they are the best among us is bad enough. The fact that people in Washington are willing to accept it is worse.” – James Kwak

Meanwhile, Mary Schmich plays the world’s smallest violin for a well-to-do friend (starts about 4:45). Describing a former journalist friend who decided to cash in and become an analyst at a large firm: “people budget their lives upon the money they’ve been told they’re going to make. Which we all do. She’s dependent on this. And all of a sudden the idea that it’s going to be shut off… if she knew a year in advance, she would budget in a different way.”

Unlike, you know, the U.S. government.

Eric Zorn just admits he’d take the money were it offered to him. I have to admit I’m pretty surprised.

It’s not so much the arguments in and of themselves as the tone – a near complete lack of surprise and a total lack of any kind of outrage. The Chicago Tribune: sticking up for the extremely enfranchised.

NB: Meanwhile, Newsweek reports that AIG’s theoretically stable insurance business might be just as screwed as the financial products subsidiary.

Update: Steve Chapman leaps to the defense of AIG’s best and brightest: “No one in the lynch mob wants to admit that the amount is piddling from the point of view of taxpayers. It adds up to less than 1 percent of the $170 billion the government has poured into AIG.”

I don’t know what “lynch mob” Chapman is referring to, but it’s a lynch mob of strawmen.

Josh Marshall: “In this sense, this isn’t a distraction. Yes, the dollar amounts are small. And pols across the spectrum are demagoguing the thing for all its worth. But the real issue of who’s in control, and whose interests are being served, cuts through every dollar we’ve dedicated to this project.”

Duncan Black: This has always been about protection money.

Naked Capitalism: “It appears that Congress may finally be growing impatient with Obama. If these Congressional initiatives pass (and Speaker Pelosi seems likely to push these through in the next couple of days), they will be a direct rebuke to Geithner’s vision of providing bailout money with minimal strings attached.”

Marcy Wheeler: “The kind of people who would threaten to do this are threatening to bring down the global finance system. Again.”