Is Geithner A Lost Cause?


Apparently Tim Geithner’s much heralded banking rescue proposal went over like a lead balloon. The rap against Geithner is that he failed to present a detailed plan, seemed to lack creditibility, didn’t make a commanding or inspiring presentation–someone described him as an “elf reading a book report”–and dithered, switching plans at the very last minute.

It’s hard not to be a bit cynical when it comes to Geithner’s critics. What exactly did you expect from Geithner? The man spent his life as a pseudo-academic, behind the scenes bureaucrat. Until the destruction of Bear Stearns, he was virtually invisible to the public. And after that, he was more than willing to play fourth fiddle to Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson and Sheila Bair. This guy was never going to turn into some kind of great historical figure standing astride the earth moving money and soil.

After our experience with Hank Paulson as Treasury Secretary, there was a great feeling among the masses that what we needed was not a chief executive running the economy, much less a Wall Street boss. What we needed, nearly everyone said, was a smart guy who came from outside the corporate boardroom. And that’s what we got in Geithner.

Expecting Geithner to exude the confidence we’ve come to expect from corporate or political leaders is just childish. Nothing on his resume suggests Geithner has the kind of experience or personality that lead to inspirational leadership. Keep in mind that Geithner’s never run for dog catcher, much less a board seat or any executive position.

He’s a nudge, a guy with stacks of papers, a couple of ideas and the kind of non-public arrogance bred inside of bureacracies. What does it mean to possess “non-public arrogance?” It’s the arrogrance of behind the scenes experts. He thinks he’s right, and it’s annoying that other people get to second guess him. Think of John Malkovich’s character from Burn After Reading.

It’s always possible that Geithner will somehow rise to the occassion. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. But would you take that bet?