Is Obama's Team Too Wall Street?
Is Obama’s economic team -- especially its most public face, Treasury secretary Tim Geithner -- too Wall Street? Does that even matter if its policy is credible? The answer to both questions is “no,” but the charge still isn’t going away. Take this heated exchange yesterday between Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Damon Silvers, the associate general counsel of the AFL-CIO and a member of a panel supervising the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
At an oversight hearing, the AFL-CIOer prefaced his final question for the Treasury secretary with a dose of guilt-by-association, indicating that he practiced law, while Geithner was “in banking.” Geithner wouldn’t let Silvers finish. He’s never been in banking, the Treasury secretary bristled.
A long time ago, perhaps?
Never done that, either.
In fact, Geithner interjected, he’s been in public service his whole career. Silvers conceded and went on with his question. When it came time for John Sununu, a former GOP senator from New Hampshire and another panel member, to take the mic, he assured Geithner that he would never have mistaken him for an investment banker.
Part of Geithner’s appeal to the Obama camp is that it’s pretty hard to accuse him of being a tool of corporate America, a shill for big finance, or whatever alarmist moniker you prefer, since he’s been taking home relatively tiny paychecks of one type or another his whole career. So it’s a little astonishing that this Geithner-as-Wall-Street-servant meme still has life -- and in an oversight panel on the substance of TARP policy, no less. His employment history, apparently, hasn’t stopped critics such as Silvers -- or the Code Pink brigade that showed up to yesterday’s hearing in order to scream at the Treasury secretary about how “we” need a bailout, not wealthy bankers -- from trying to take digs into his integrity. Indeed, the AIG bonuses issue seems to have been a key moment for Geithner’s critics. Take the post-AIG accusation from Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) that people like Geithner think it’s “natural” to get “$6 million” bonuses. Or Arianna Huffington’s anti-Geithner diatribe last month, which uses the Treasury secretary’s position on AIG bonuses, among other things, to conclude that he’s a reflection of a chummy, corrupt Washington-Wall Street axis.
But perhaps this isn’t so astonishing, after all. Indicting Geithner by associating him with vaguely defined, almost certainly fictitious corporate conspiracies is a cheap shot. A generous view is that this really is just a policy dispute between the administration and critics who would have Wall Street sink into the Hudson, consequences or no. The AIG episode made it even easier for them to be nasty to a policymaker who doesn’t share their view -- a roadblock in what should be a more sympathetic administration. Even if that’s true, it’s pretty unfair.
I can find plenty of ways to disagree with Geithner, but I find the notion that one can’t agree with him without being entangled in some kind of exploitative corporate cabal particularly galling. I don’t base my assessment of TARP on the size of executives’ bonuses. I think that the government must act robustly to save the financial system but am still wary of rushing to nationalization. And, somehow, I believe all that without being on or from or beholden to Wall Street. I don’t have financial incentives to believe what I do, except insomuch as a growing economy benefits my bottom line, along with most Americans’. So let’s get on with the real debate -- on substance, not associations.
| April 22, 2009; 4:51 PM ET
Categories: Stromberg | Tags: Stephen Stromberg
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