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Tim Geithner's honorable unpopularity

PH2010012604259.jpgDavid Cho has a nice piece today talking to Timothy Geithner about why nobody likes him. Geithner's explanation is convincing, so far as it goes: He held office at a time when the right things to do were also unpopular to do. The fact that he's done a good job doesn't mean the public isn't angry about the job he's had to do.

What I don't understand -- forgive me, Brad DeLong -- is the argument for keeping Geithner much beyond this point. It's true that whoever served in that chair during the worst of the banking crisis is going to be a compromised figure. That makes the public service they provided all the more laudable, and all the more valuable. History will likely judge Geithner very well. But he's a less effective official today because he has so little public credibility. Just as you needed someone who was willing to be unpopular to do the unpopular things, you might well need someone popular who can manage the transition to doing the popular things. The problem is that I don't know of anyone who is widely considered able to do the job, confirmable to the job, and who is, or would be, popular.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 28, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
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What are the 'popular' things on the financial front that you anticipate will need doing anytime in the near future? Unless the admin can learn to make a better casse for banking reforms,etc., I would see nothing much but additional pain for whoever might replace Geithner. I doubt you would have many takers at this point.

Going ahead with Geithner in the first place when they knew about his tax problem was a mistake, but he has gotten a bit better as a spokesman for administration policies, and any new confirmation hearings would be nothing but a bloodbath at this point, especially before the midterm election. Best to muddle through for now, I think,

Posted by: exgovgirl | January 28, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I understand there's a better choice in SF Fed, Janet Yellen (not sure about the name.) I've heard a few, like Krugman discuss it. You may want to check out her views/history.

Also, I'm a big fan of Stiglitz. He should replace Ben B, like yesterday.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | January 28, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

After many thanks and much gratitude, no bashing or scapegoating, wouldn't it also be a really good political moment when he goes? A clear signal that the economy is on its way to serious good health, and no longer necessary to have to have the guy who symbolizes (with Paulsen) the terribly bad times and necessary unpopular steps taken? Like after your last follow-up visit to your surgeon after surgery?

Posted by: dcunning1 | January 28, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Again all this ignores that before being Treasury Secretary he had one of the most powerful economic jobs in the country, one of the one's most responsible for dealing with the financial sector. And he blew it.

Posted by: endaround | January 28, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Bloomberg would fit all three of your criteria, but I think as Mayor of New York he's had to come to some positions on financial reform that would not wash with the administration. Perhaps his views are somewhat malleable?

Posted by: wagster | January 28, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse


A very short while ago, you critiqued the modern media as having too many 'policy' analysts that are more properly called political analysis, and the deliterious effect this lack of distinction has had on public discourse.

Could you please reconcile your lament for the one with your current post, that looks to me like a throwback to some imagined Roman real-politic. "Sorry Tim, you did an excellent job, will be lauded by history, and saved the Republic, but the crowd is kinda iffy right now and so you're lion bait."

This is the same backward thinking that has put term limits in place, reasoning that ignorance and naivete will ensure integrity and skill. If you want to argue he's made poor decisions or is downright duplicitous, then get him gone. Otherwise he's finally gained the experience needed to be most effective in the position. This is governance, not dating.

Posted by: Jaycal | January 28, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse


while the bank bailout was unavoidable the lack of accountability was not and the fact that he was directly involved with these guys (as was Paulson) just SCREAMS of hypocrisy yet isn't mentioned. Is there anyone at Treasury that DIDN'T work at Goldman Sachs???

Also they should have announced at the beginning of all of this over a year ago that after Wall Street was bailed out (and it would be needed to keep everything running) that we'd take the repaid money and save Main St and that this is the logical order of things. No such explanations happened and any benefits are very slow in coming out if at all(much slower than what Wall St received.

Geithner sold out the American taxpayer with his actions. 100 cents on the dollar? REALLY??? No mention of that Ezra???? Its the financial equivalent (IMO) of Cheney and Haliburton.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 28, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

On my blog I've generally lauded Geithner.

Re: "Is there anyone at Treasury that DIDN'T work at Goldman Sachs???"

The Secretary.

Posted by: HalHorvath | January 28, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

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