In a pep talk to the captains of the industry, US President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday censured Wall Street executives and CEOs of Detroit's 'Big Three' automakers as "tone deaf" for squandering public funds amid the economic crisis and promised to return to "the ethic of responsibility".
Weeks away from his January 20 inauguration, he stressed the importance of personal, corporate and civic accountability in the light of the weak American economy and said his Presidency would be a return to "the ethic of responsibility."
Without mincing words, Obama said Wall Street executives seeking multi-million-dollar bonuses, and the leaders of Detroit's Big Three automakers -- Ford, Chrysler and General Motors -- who last week flew to Washington aboard private jets to ask Congress for a bailout, are "tone deaf" to the concerns of the American people.
"Captains of industry" on Wall Street and in Detroit who took advantage of corporate perks while their companies benefited from government loans paid for with taxpayers' money, do not have "any perspective on what's happening to ordinary Americans," Obama said in an interview to ABC's Barbara Walters.
Executives placed in a position of authority have "got responsibilities to your workers. You've got a responsibility to your community; to your share holders. There's got to be a point where you say, 'I have enough, and now I'm in this position of responsibility. Let me make sure that I'm doing right by the people and acting in a way that is responsible,'" he said.
Executives at many of Wall Street's top firms, including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, have, in recent days, laid off scores of workers and announced they would forgo Christmas bonuses, a policy the incoming President indicated he wanted to see more of.
Asked if the bank executives should forgo their bonuses, Obama said, "I think they should."
"That's an example of taking responsibility. I think that if you are already worth tens of millions of dollars, and you are having to lay off workers, the least you can do is say, 'I'm willing to make some sacrifice as well, because I recognise that there are people who are a lot less well off, who are going through some pretty tough times,'" Obama said.
In the interview, the President-elect touched on a broad range of topics from the economy and troop deployments in Afghanistan, to Thanksgiving plans with his family. He also talked about many of the personal adjustment he, his wife Michelle, and their two children will make when they move into the White House.
Obama also said he was concerned that the isolated life of a President would limit his access to information from outside the bubble of the White House.
"One of the things that I'm going to have to work through is how to break through the isolation -- the bubble that exists around the President. I'm in the process of negotiating with the Secret Service, with lawyers, with White House staff ... to figure out how can I get information from outside of the 10 or 12 people who surround my office in the White House," he said.
Obama said that, on the campaign trail, he had a chance to interact with hundreds of Americans, to hear their stories and connect with them personally. He said the often hermetic environs of the White House sometimes lead Presidents to lose touch with their constituents.
"One of the worst things I think that could happen to a President is losing touch with what people are going through day-to-day," he said.
"I want to make sure that I keep my finger on the pulse of the struggles that people are going through every day," Obama said.