If we needed any more proof of the power of the language, I present as Exhibit A the townhall meetings on healthcare reform. Full of sound and fury, these meetings are being used by both sides in the debate to push their own agendas. The New York Times reported on August 16 that the “debate” has turned into a “full-blown national political campaign replete with battleground states, polling, leafleting, and fractious town hall-style meetings.”
The student of history in me would point out that American political history is rife with episodes of such over-the-top arguments and threats of violence. Our greatest Presidents were on the receiving end of plenty of insults in their days at least equal to the “Obama-is-a-communist-trying-to-bring-down-our-way-of-life-and-ruin-our-economy” charges. What is of more interest, however, is how each side is using phrases in the debate–like the “death panels” that ostensibly will decide whether a sick person will provide sufficient economic benefit to society to justify further medical treatment–that provoke visceral responses that then preclude further rational debate on the merits or failings of the Administration’s proposals.
That’s why it was so refreshing to sit down with the leaders of this year’s winning Broker/Dealers of the Year and to hear them calmly discuss how regulatory reform will affect their businesses. They all agreed that while having a fiduciary obligation imposed on them was a concern, it was also a red herring. “In arbitration, we’re already held to a fiduciary standard,” noted Jerry Rydell, CEO of Sigma Financial, which is Broker/Dealer of the Year in Division III. David Stringer of Division I winner Prospera Financial said “we all tell our advisors, and look for advisors, who are putting their clients’ interests first, so for the most part that’s already taking place.”
“We’ll find our way through the fiduciary issue, though that will take a lot of give and take,” admitted Brian Murphy of Woodbury Financial, Division IV winner. “But, if they all of a sudden reclassify our independent contractors as employees, it hurts our entire system.” Ralph DeVito, president and CEO of Division II winner The Investment Center, put the repercussions of such a move starkly: “Then we’re out of business, and we turn into a wirehouse.”