National Consensus Update:
Tim Geithner — Really cool guy. Super job on that bank bailout thing. Look at the way the stock market jumped. Way better Treasury secretary than last week’s Tim Geithner, who seemed a lot ... shorter.
Barack Obama — Kinda boring. Did you see the news conference? Same thing over and over again. Not that we mind. In these troubled times, we like stability. Thank God we didn’t elect somebody who was all charisma and exciting speeches.
Eliot Spitzer — He was the only one who got it, really got it, about A.I.G. before the big collapse. Great New York attorney general. What ever happened to him?
TALF (Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility) — This is the thing Tim Geithner is doing, and, you know, whatever Tim wants ... We like TALF much, much better than TARP, which was the brainchild of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who had that dumb idea about buying up all the bank’s toxic assets. Which is what Tim is going to do, except it’s going to be way cooler.
Financial industry — We still hate Wall Street. Although when it sends the stock market up, it makes us like Tim Geithner even more.
In summary, there appear to be only two constants in our ever-changing world. One is that Barack Obama is going to be on television every day forever. No venue is too strange. Soon, he’ll be on “Dancing With the Stars” (“And now, doing the Health Care, Energy and Education tango ...”) or delivering the weather report. (“Here we see a wave of systemic change, moving across the nation ...”)
The other immutable truth is that we always need to have somebody we can be really, really angry at. The A.I.G. bonus-takers have pretty much worn out their 15 minutes. In an Op-Ed article in The Times on Wednesday, Jake DeSantis, one of the executive vice presidents of the company’s dreaded financial-products unit, offered up his side of the story about how even though he had never met a credit default swap in his life, he had promised to stay around to help clean up the mess for $1 a year and a bonus at the end of the tunnel. And then, suddenly, there was the head of the company throwing him to the wolves, or at least to the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises.
It reminded me of a time when I was in college and got a summer temp job at the purchasing department of a widget factory in Brooklyn. The office manager, who stayed hidden away in his office, had given all the power to one assistant manager, the golden Colin from England, while Colin’s two co-workers, Bernie and Frank, had nothing to do but sit around grinding their teeth.
Colin was on vacation when I arrived, and as time went on, it became increasingly clear that he was never coming back. The manager stayed in his office — and in denial. The factory started running out of everything, including toilet paper. I invented a new filing system in which all incoming letters and phone messages were divided by the number of times the petitioner had previously attempted to contact Colin. It was a big hit.
The next time I came through Brooklyn, the widget factory was gone. But suppose that instead of a small manufacturing firm, it had been an international insurance giant and Colin was selling complicated financial products based on risky mortgages? Trust me, Bernie and Frank would have expected to be paid really big bucks for cleaning up after him.
The country needs a new, improved villain. This is not a problem in New York, since we have a state government so awful that we barely noticed this week when prosecutors revealed that the state pension fund scandal is intertwined with a deal to sell DVDs of a movie called “Chooch.” The governor is terrible, and the Legislature is terrible and — we need Eliot Spitzer! Whatever happened to him, anyway?
In Congress, the person currently giving the Obama administration heartburn is Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the chairman of the Budget Committee. But this is a guy whose biggest claim to fame is that when making a budget speech, he uses so many charts that the Senate gave him his own printing equipment. I am not seeing a great target for pitchfork-waving.
Something will turn up. If Tim (Great Guy!) Geithner’s bank bailout plan works, it will mean quadrillions of dollars in profits for hedge fund managers who are already billionaires, and I can absolutely guarantee you that we are not going to be pleased. Then we can turn on him again. And Eliot Spitzer can become the next secretary of the Treasury.