The Smart Move: Geithner Isn’t Going Anywhere

By Al Giordano

The anti-Geithner partisans on the right as well as the left got a deserved smackdown from the President on 60 Minutes Sunday night. (Transcript here, key excerpt later in this essay.)

The right wing chorus of “I hope he fails” explains its own transparent goal in calling for the ritual presentation of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s head on a stick. In a sentence: The chain reaction of events caused by a sudden vacancy at Treasury would delay any possible economic recovery until after the 2010 elections. I’ll walk us all through their favored scenario in a moment.

It is the call from some sectors the center-left for Geithner to be fired – from the usual suspects; Kuttner, FireDogLake, OpenLeft, some (but certainly not all or most) corners of the DKos community and, today, Arianna Huffington joined them – many that lean heavily on Krugman's doom and gloom declarations, that have universally failed to propose what would then happen next.

As happened to most of these exact same players throughout 2008, they are stuck playing checkers while Obama beats them at chess.

Here’s what the right-wing wants in its proposed ritual sacrifice of Geithner:

1. A vacancy at Treasury would shift the power fulcrum back to the US Senate, which the Constitution bestows with veto power over cabinet nominees.

2. No matter who the replacement nominee would be (and more vociferously so if the newbie were perceived as even a hair’s length more progressive than Geithner) a red state Senator would put a “hold” on the nomination, as occurred to delay Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ confirmation.

3. The prolonged vacancy at Treasury would cause key economic indicators and consumer confidence to plummet faster and more furiously. The risk is high that such a jolt of chaos could cause the complete collapse of the economy that nearly occurred last October.

4. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department would be devoid of leadership, stalling those parts of its work – including its role in implementing the Stimulus spending – for months. Without a secretary, the Senate would be unlikely to approve any undersecretaries to fill the void. And as the President noted on 60 Minutes, the fact that many qualified talents are already – given the harsh and personalized scrutiny upon the economic team - turning down offers to serve in the administration’s economic hot seats, the pool of possible replacements, undersecretaries and key staffers would shrink even more dramatically if the first Secretary were to be thrown overboard before his work had seen sufficient time to bear fruit in the form of economic recovery. What talent in his or her right mind would even consider a nomination under those circumstances?

5. Once the GOP opposition research bloodhounds had dug up enough dirt (real or perceived) on the new nominee, the Senate confirmation hearings would, after a long delay, begin. They would become a media circus far beyond those for any cabinet nominee to date. The story would tend to dominate the news cycle for a good part of the spring of 2009.

6. Meanwhile, the economy would – even after some current signals of stabilization early into Obama’s term - head back into a tailspin.

7. Geithner's fall and the subsequent chain reaction of events would then splendidly accomplish the Republicans' main goal: delay the economic recovery until after November 2010, giving them their one and only chance at rebounding – a la the Gingrich revolution of 1994 - to avoid what otherwise looks to become their destruction as a major power for the next generation. Given the choice between its own effective extinction or the nation’s economic collapse, the Republican leadership would choose a Great Depression. That’s sad, but it’s undeniably the case.

Thus, one would think that the progressive bloggers and pundits that are likewise calling for Geithner’s removal would exercise an iota of responsibility by offering some answers along with their demand-of-the-week. I have some questions for them:

-       If not Geithner, who do you realistically think should be nominated for Treasury Secretary?

-       What makes you so certain that your favored candidate would survive the Senate confirmation process in what would surely be a newly rarified media circus surrounding it?

-       Let’s call this question “the Gillibrand ‘you break it, you buy it’ factor”: How can you possibly be sure you won’t get a replacement nominee less distasteful to big business and banking (see: Summers, Larry)?

-       And why should we take your call seriously if you won’t or can’t answer those three simple questions?

I’ve read the excuses, and they’re a parade of epic fails already: Some claim to be certain that the current path of economic recovery chosen by President Obama won’t work. The honest ones admit they can’t prove that claim. The rest just repeat it with religious zealotry. For them, it is a matter of “faith based” belief and “magical thinking” on their parts even as some accuse the supporters of the Obama program with such oft-meaningless clichés.

Others are being dishonest and disingenuous: They do “hope he fails.” And they’re not honest enough to admit it. They would rather not see the current path chosen by the President succeed at stoking economic recovery because it wouldn’t have been done their way. Their own version of the “shock doctrine” – use the crisis to tear it all down! – would have been missed, in their imaginations, as the supposedly golden opportunity presented by this crisis.

I don’t believe in Capitalism. It’s a terrible and inhumane system, and history will judge it harshly. If I thought for a moment that the American people were informed, organized and ready enough to ring in a Democratic Socialism that would be decentralized enough to protect individual liberties, I too would say, “hooray, the moment has arrived, let’s bring about the entire collapse of the system.” The end of capitalism is a worthwhile goal (and may indeed be coming sooner to some other lands, particularly in this hemisphere, where the public is more organized and ready and desirous of it).

But history shows that unless the people of any given land are ready and organized in a sizeable enough critical mass behind a specific alternative to capitalism from the left, what pops up instead from the chaos and human suffering of system crashes is the triumph of authoritarianisms from the right. Let’s be reality based: The US population is not there yet (what Marx called it the “objective conditions” do not at present exist to create a healthy socialist or anarcho-syndicalist or other alternative to capitalism). Thus, “let the system fall” is a path to disaster rather than liberation at this precise moment in history.

And that’s why the right-wing wants the system to crash, and sees the removal of Geithner as the silver bullet through which to make that happen.

And that’s why, I think, President Obama answered 60 Minutes’ questions about the calls for Geithner’s departure with these words:

STEVE KROFT: Your Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been under— a lot of pressure this week. And there have been people in Congress calling for his head.


STEVE KROFT: Have there been discussions in the White House about replacing him?


STEVE KROFT: Has he volunteered to, or come to you and said, "Do you think I should step down?"

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. And— and he shouldn't. And if he were to come to me, I'd say, "Sorry, Buddy. (LAUGHS) You— you've still got the job."

But look. He's got a lot of stuff on his plate. And he is doing a terrific job. And I take responsibility for— not, I think, having given him as much help as he needs.

Given the fragility of the economy and the obvious potential consequences of the chaos that would more likely than not come from a sudden vacancy at Treasury, the burden is on those who call for Geithner’s head to answer the three questions without which their proposal cannot be taken seriously. Let me repeat them here:

-       If not Geithner, who do you realistically think should be nominated for Treasury Secretary?

-       What makes you so certain that your favored candidate would survive the Senate confirmation process in what would surely be a newly rarified media circus surrounding it?

-       How can you possibly be sure you won’t get a replacement nominee less distasteful to big business and banking than Geithner?

You break it. You buy it.

And you who are calling for Geithner's head have so far utterly failed to answer those questions.

Your aspiring leaders in the Dump Geithner lobby have not ever taken responsibility (or even issued corrections) for their multiple past mistakes in political judgment. And one doesn’t have to have any special kind of faith or trust in Secretary Geithner to have even less trust in those demagogues of the right or the left calling for his ritual sacrifice without showing the basic decency and responsibility to answer those vital questions.

If you have convincing answers for those questions, use the comments section. I’ll gladly consider them and I think many others will as well. But so far, all we hear from your camp on the most important questions, beyond the routine expressions of poutrage, are… crickets.


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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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