We’ve seen a lot of Timothy Geithner lately in the news—usually looking concerned yet purposeful as he stands behind the president in photos and press conferences—but we haven’t heard a great deal straight from the source. On Thursday, CNN’s Ali Velshi managed to get the treasury secretary talking, but what Geithner had to say is distinctly underwhelming.
During the interview, Geithner casts the current economic crisis as a kind of financial natural disaster, calling “financial crises ... brutal and indiscriminate in the pain they cause,” thus bringing to mind something more like a tornado than a phenomenon that is directly shaped by humans, especially those in positions of power.
However, earlier in the discussion he acknowledges that man-made circumstances are partly to blame, making reference to the “enormously challenging inherited problems” that he and the rest of the current administration are facing. Also, Geithner kicks off the whole tête-à-tête by proudly noting, “I spent my entire professional life working in institutions that are responsible for American economic policy.” It doesn’t require advanced knowledge of economic axioms to detect that something doesn’t quite add up here.
Velshi: The president has referred to you as uniquely qualified for the job of treasury secretary. What does he mean by that?
Geithner: You know, I’ve had this great privilege in life, which is I spent my entire professional life working in institutions that are responsible for American economic policy. I started in the Treasury in 1988, spent 12 years of my life there.
This is an enormously talented group of people, both here and at the Federal Reserve, where I also worked for some time. And I’ve had the great privilege of working with great, great men and women in some of the most challenging financial crises of the last 20 years.
[...] You know, financial crises are brutal and indiscriminate in the pain they cause. And they have this basic tragic unfairness: that people who are careful and responsible in their personal and professional judgments are being damaged by the actions of those who were less careful and less prudent.
And it is an important obligation of government to make sure that we’re moving very, very quickly to try to address those challenges.
Velshi: Now you must know that ... there are a lot of people who don’t think that’s the case. They think that somehow, those who have been responsible for things have been rewarded. How can you do a better job of communicating that you’re focused on individuals who haven’t done the wrong thing?
Geithner: I think the American people are just enormously frustrated and angry that they find themselves in this position. But I want them to understand that everything we’re doing is designed to make sure that we’re getting the credit necessary to help them do what they need to do.
AP photo / Gerald Herbert
That’s him in the corner: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner looks on as President Obama talks about the economy on Monday.