Friday, March 20, 2009

Does He Get It?

Eugene Robinson of the WaPo, a very strong Obama supporter, writes:

Geithner may indeed be the hardest-working man in Washington. But to survive, let alone succeed, he's going to have to make a more convincing case that he's part of the solution and not part of the problem.

A simpler way of asking the Geithner question is: Does he get it?

Does he understand the profound sense of betrayal that so many Americans feel as we learn that the supposed wizards of finance, the Masters of the Universe who shower themselves with unimaginable wealth, were safeguarding our economic well-being with the diligence and sobriety of a drunken high roller at a craps table in Vegas at 4 a.m.? Does he understand that the crisis is not just an economic watershed but a cultural one as well, and that what once was deemed perfectly acceptable behavior on Wall Street is now seen as reprehensible? Does he understand that outside of Lower Manhattan, the definition of a "retention bonus" is being spared from the latest round of layoffs?

The basic strategy for handling the crisis, begun under the Bush administration and continued by Obama, is to hook up a fire hose to the Treasury and shower irresponsible and greedy financial institutions with money until the fire is put out. In political terms, to put it mildly, this is a hard sell. It becomes an impossible sell when Wall Street displays not gratitude but arrogance, reminding us how emotionally satisfying it would be -- if ultimately counterproductive and even disastrous -- to stand back and let the fire burn.

The vast amount of money poured into Wall Street has bought American taxpayers the right to say that business-as-usual practices such as the AIG bonuses are over. Geithner needs to deliver this message. If he can't or won't, Obama should find somebody who can and will.

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