I’ve been writing about Steve Rattner
pretty steadily for five or six years. He’s been one of my favorite characters from the age of financial ambition. He’s often been angry and hurt about what I’ve had to say
. But, honestly, I never disliked him. Rather, I found him almost too good.
He was a striver without respite. I myself might have liked to have striven as hard, but tired too easily. Rattner, on the other hand, was indefatigable. He amassed it all. The money, the Manhattan apartment (what an apartment!), the tireless wife, great power and influence among everybody else of power and influence. True, his chase didn’t ever seem to end, or his exertions to get him what he wanted. Instead of being Treasury Secretary, he's only the Car Czar (even there he was really only head of
the Car Czar committee).
And now, instead of getting an ultimate reward for his constant exertion, it looks like he’s going to be punished for it
. His dedication to doing everything that was necessary to reach the top, and to accomplishing and surpassing what was expected of him (once, when I wrote about him, his father responded with a rancorous defense of his son—you know there’s a lot riding on success in that house) has gotten him into terrible trouble.
(Tony Bennett and Steve Rattner, Getty)
What he did was what you had to do to raise money—the money with which he was building the investment firm that gave him wealth and power.
Now I have, in a small time sort of way, tried to be like Steve Rattner and have tried to raise money myself. In my experience there may not be anything, even in the boom years, harder to do. People just don’t want to give you their dough. Or they want you to really get on your knees for it. (Unless they believe they’ll get more dough back from you, and then they’ll get on their knees in front of you—but, in Rattner’s case, his investment fund wasn’t ever that successful.) Every such transaction involves an added little something. Understanding this is no doubt the secret sauce for getting rich. I will give you something and you will give me something. We will all scratch each other’s backs. It may always have been so (and always will be).
Steve Rattner accommodated the middle man for some of New York State’s pension funds. Or, less generously, he paid off the bag man
. He did this, I believe, because this was how the game was played. If you wanted to be Steven Rattner, this was the price.
There’s now much tisk-tisking about hubris and tragic flaws. But that, I’d argue, is pumped up. We are now trying to imbue the go-go years (dreadful now, but soon we will remember them as a wondrous time) with great cautionary tales. When, in reality, Steve’s dealings were merely business as usual.
His tragedy is just that he was a little too proud of being a striver, and a success; if he was guilty of anything, it was of wanting people to know it.
The lesson we learn is that nobody likes a hotdog.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com.