Recession Villains: Who Will Be Blamed Next?

On March 15, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a member of the Joint Economic Committee, called for the AIG chief to step down, accusing him of "reckless and irresponsible behavior." Cummings had also called for Liddy to resign weeks earlier.

At a Capitol Hill hearing last Wednesday, lawmakers got their chance to tee off on Liddy, turning the CEO into a virtual punching bag for his five hours of testimony.

"There's a tidal wave of rage throughout America right now and it's building up and it's expressing itself at this latest outrage, which is really just the tip of the iceberg," Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., said at the hearing. "And that rage is because the taxpayer knows that they are the ultimate sucker on the list of who pays for all the greed that has been going on in the marketplace for years and years."

Liddy described to lawmakers the threatening letters his company had received in the wake of the bonus controversy.

"I am just really concerned about the safety of our people, so let me just read two things to you," he said, starting to read letters. "'All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their necks. My greatest hope -- if the government can't do this properly, we the people will take it into our own hands and see that justice is done. I'm looking for all the CEOs' names, kids, where they live, et cetera.'"

Blame Game: Is It Dangerous?

Ariely said that the danger of putting so much blame on individuals rather than systemic causes for the financial crisis -- such as, for instance, conflicts of interest -- means that there may be less attention paid to fixing what went wrong.

"We might neglect the important things when we focus on the personally disturbing, but less important things," he said.

"From the economic perspective, we gave AIG so much money, who cares about a few millions here or there? You know, it's a drop in the bucket in terms of all the money we lost," Ariely said. "But the fact is that that particular money is associated with the individuals who we feel betrayed us and we want them to suffer. And because we want them to suffer so much, we get extremely agonized, we're extremely suffering, we're extremely unhappy when they're not always suffering, but they seem to be gaining."

If Obama does not handle this anger correctly, liberal columnist David Sirota told ABC News, then it could eventually be directed at his administration.

"I think the fact that he's portrayed, or his administration has said that one of their goals is to tamp down the anger instead of channel it into something more positive, I think that's a real problem for him," Sirota said. "I think it's a problem because if he doesn't get out in front of this populist anger, he will become a target of it."

As past targets of public discontent can attest, the anger of Americans packs a mean punch.

ABC News' Drew Millhon and Charles Herman contributed to this report.

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