President Barack Obama’s extensive interview on CBS’s venerable and still-power-house-rated 60 Minutes made news even before the interview aired due to some segments released in advance — most specifically, his defense of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner..
In less than two months in office, Geithner has managed to spark a gathering a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Wall Streeters who suggest (Republicans increasingly say, Democrats imply) he isn’t up to the job — and that Geithner in the Treasury spot is as much an unaffordable luxury as AIG paying bonuses to its executives.
Here’s the news-making clip from 60 Minutes:
Watch CBS Videos Online
[UPDATE: Full transcript of 60 Minutes interview is HERE.]
Geithner has now become a kind of symbolic subject because of the way people look at him as well as what it says about Obama as a leader, manager and decision maker…and the latter depends again on each person’s political perspective (or bias):
THOSE WHO WANT HIM TO GO feel he’s not up to the job, has proven to be too tied to Wall Street and the political status quo, and is offering dangerously slow, piecemeal and uninspired suggestions to the gravest American economic threat since the Great Depression.
THOSE WHO WANT HIM TO STAY (such as Obama) believe he’s doing as good a job as anyone could do in an almost unprecedented climate and that no matter what pundits, media types, bloggers and some (but not all) on Wall Streeters say that’s negative about him, he’s the best hope since he knows the economic ropes, has ties to Wall Street and has the needed experience. He isn’t a flashy type of person, they say, and that’s what’s working against him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the man for the job.
THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW ONE WAY OR THE OTHER might feel the economic story is a bit out of their league, or they want to give him more time. This might include some of the independent voters who are sticking with him at a time when Obama’s independent support is eroding.
IF OBAMA KEEPS HIM some will say it shows he is a strong leader who has shown he doesn’t have to give into a supposed clamor for Geithner to go when this clamor actually consists of people who don’t reflect a clamor but rather a bunch of new and old media types with mikes, keyboards or printing presses, some disgruntled CEOs on Wall Street who don’t want any change — plus Republican partisans who see every new twist as a way to undermine Obama so the GOP can take back the Congress in 2010 and the White House in 2012. Others will say (and are saying) that if Obama keeps him despite what many respectable (and perhaps some un-respectable) people insist, then he’s the same as George Bush who felt above all that “I am the decider” with an emphasis on “I.”
IF OBAMA BOOTS HIM OR GEITHNER SUDDENLY QUITS TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH HIS FAMILY some will say it shows his priority was quality management. Others will call him “another Carter” and say he can be bullied and forced to do the bidding of the new and old media elite, politicos, and partisans. It’ll be pointed to as an Obama appointment bungle on the biggest issue of the day.
There’s more in the interview. For instance in this video clip, Obama talks about the public’s anger towards Wall Street:
Meanwhile, the first pre-airing news that came out of this interview was how Obama
* who has since leaving office issued some increasingly harsh pronouncements on Obama in a stark departure from the political behavior of Presidents and Vice Presidents who usually hold their tongues, even while those who replace them undo their policies or diss them while in office. Cheney has sounded increasingly like his favorite talk show host and interviewer Rush Limbaugh, as opposed to a former Vice President. And Obama has perhaps learned that charges unanswered tend to take hold in the public perception:
President Obama is reprising some of his most familiar campaign rhetoric to criticize Dick Cheney, saying in an interview that the former vice president has no room to criticize him on national security.
“How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney?” Obama asked on “60 Minutes,” according to excerpts released by CBS ahead of its Sunday airing. “It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.”
Obama’s volley comes a week after Cheney said the new president was taking steps to “raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
Cheney, in an interview with CNN’s John King last Sunday, singled out Obama’s intent to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where many terrorism suspects are held, arguing that the administration was returning to a law enforcement rather than a full-scale military approach to terrorism.
Obama’s tough words for Cheney represent the latest Salvo in what has become a shooting war between the new administration and the former vice president.
Prediction: The interview will prove to be a net plus for Obama. 60 Minutes has a huge viewership and it’ll further solidify Obama’s evolving image which is of a President who tends to talk in a conversational style more similar to how “real” people speak than the typical politico-speak. He’ll likely to continue to be soundly criticized by partisans in particular, but partisan criticism in print, on the Internet and on radio and cable has now become numbingly predictable. The question is what polls show on whether Obama is connecting with voters and independent voters in particular — and whether despite his administration’s and Democratic toe-stubbing and rainstorm of criticism, the bulk of Americans feel they’re willing to accept his sales pitch and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Stay tuned to the polls on that one..
SOME OTHER REACTION TO GEITHNER:
In fact, I was talking to someone on Friday saying that I was glad the drumbeat for Geithner to resign had subsided, which was the wrong way to state it. Actually, many people are talking about it. The truth and what I meant was that President Obama cannot afford to fire Geithner (though he should have let him go over his tax issue at the beginning). But now is simply too late, so if the firing squad comes after Geithner the only one they’ll hit at this point is President Obama (with plenty left over for the Democratic Party). He knows this, which is why he’s reported to say Geithner’s staying on “60 Minutes.” Time will tell if that holds, but if it doesn’t that noise you’ll hear is Mitt Romney’s rallying cry.
The standard Washington wisecrack any time a president expresses public confidence in a subordinate is that the poor fellow’s days must be numbered. But in this case, White House aides are unanimous in insisting that Obama likes his Treasury secretary and wants to keep him. They say the president esteems Geithner’s intellect, values his understanding of the financial markets and marvels at his work ethic. (Treasury hasn’t released any of the details of the bank rescue plan, but it has revealed that Geithner often gets to work at 6:30 a.m. and leaves at 9:30 p.m., 15 hours later.)
….And Geithner has undeniable strengths…..It’s true that Geithner failed to supply details when he outlined his bank rescue plan last month, but aides say he withheld the fine print because it just wasn’t ready. In light of the AIG fiasco, isn’t it better to take a few more weeks to get it right?…
…So far, demands from Republican backbenchers that Geithner resign aren’t serious; no Republican leader and no Democrat of any stripe has joined in (although Democrats have grumbled privately).
For Obama to fire Geithner now would look like a sign of weakness and panic, not strength.
President Obama’s claim that Timothy Geithner faces a more daunting set of challenges than any Treasury secretary since Alexander Hamilton may be an exaggeration, but not by much. 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.
…Obama’s job would be much easier if Geithner were more effective at communicating with the public about what happened to the economy and what the administration is doing to fix it. As things stand, Obama has to do all the explaining himself. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect Geithner to be both a financial whiz and a silver-tongued orator. He does speak the language of Wall Street, though, and one of the nonnegotiable requirements in his job description should be to make the men and women who run our financial institutions understand that their behavior has to change.
….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.
He should promptly demand Geithner’s and Summers’ resignations, and should also fire the CEO of AIG, Edward Liddy (as 80% owner of AIG, the US has the power to do that anytime). It would also be a good idea at the same time to fire the CEOs of all the leading banks that are at this point surviving on government bailouts.
This would allow Obama to correct the fundamental mistake he made during the transition period following the November election in installing a bunch of Clinton-era economic advisors and Bush holdovers to be his economic team.
This gets at the heart of the Treasury’s troubles. There just aren’t enough good people to go around. Let’s all remember that most offices in the Treasury Department are currently collecting dust, as TBM chronicled last week. This week we discovered that Geithner’s choice for deputy treasury secretary withdrew her name from consideration. Why? Because her work at the SEC was a liability since, you know, the SEC allowed this mess to happen. Then there’s Caroline Atkinson, a potential international affairs official, who apparently withdrew weeks ago, though we’re just finding out about it now.
The reservoir of potential economic leaders is running into the same problem intelligence personnel did when Obama took office. Their past lives under a previous administration are preventing them from correcting their old mistakes. But we can’t have a Leon Panetta—Obama’s CIA director, who had no intelligence experience—run the Treasury. These people need to actually know what they’re doing. Hence the Geithner hire.
And if it’s this hard to staff the actual Treasury, how are we supposed to replace Geithner from within? Or, Mr. Blodget, would you prefer nobody in the cockpit at all rather than a stubbornly average pilot?
–Some people are LITERALLY BETTING Geithner is on borrowed time, the New York Times reports:
Timothy F. Geithner has taken a lot of fire in his short tenure as Treasury secretary. Now some individuals are gambling that his time in the Obama administration won’t last much longer.
On Intrade, users are betting on a futures contract that pays out if Mr. Geithner is out of his job by June 30. Right now, the futures contract shows a low probability of that happening — it’s currently at 15 percent, or $1.50. Still, that’s up from previous levels, according to the prediction market’s Web site.
Tim Geithner is having a tough week. Wall Street obviously isn’t confident in Washington’s nebulous plan to fix the banking sector, and the pundits are losing patience with both the Treasury Secretary and the Obama Administration. Consensus is building that Geithner still hasn’t owned up to the severity and even the true nature of the problems facing the economy….Treasury undoubtedly has a communication problem right now, and that’s being charitable. So, as the financial crisis continues, is Geithner getting anything right? If not, who’s qualified to step up and take over?
The question for the administration is: does it matter that major institutions — Wall Street, Congress, the New York Times, the liberal blogosphere — don’t have confidence in the Treasury secretary? If it doesn’t matter — if the fact of a lack of confidence itself doesn’t undermine policy, then fine. But if it does matter — even if it’s unfair — then the administration will find their hand forced, won’t they?
UPDATE: New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who recently met with Obama) says the new President needs to bite the bullet and be a stronger leader on the economy:
Mayor Bloomberg says the nation needs to invest in its infrastructure to get the economy going again.
REPORTER: Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, the mayor said President Obama needs to stop worrying about whether the spending is unpopular and show leadership by explaining to Congress and the people why it’s necessary:
BLOOMBERG: The American public, even when they don’t like what you do, if they think you’re doing it from the heart, if they think you’ve got good ideas, if they think you’ve consulted and tried to build a consensus, and worked with people in a nonpartisan way, they’re gonna come behind him.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.