Geithner, A Personal Note, and a Geithner Personal Note

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JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 14, 2011

Geithner, A Personal Note, and a Geithner Personal Note

[Guest post by Noam Scheiber:]

For those who haven't seen it on the homepage, I briefly wanted to plug my profile of Tim Geithner in the latest issue of the print magazine. The piece tries to explain how he recovered after his disastrous start in the Obama administration. My working hypothesis:

Geithner now realized it wasn’t enough to get the big calls right and let the politics take care of itself. To really play at this level, he would need, if not an outside game, then at least an inside game that took account of how the public perceived his actions. “You can roll over the political folks at the White House on any issue, especially if he’s got a line to the president,” one Geithner aide told me. “But you’ve got to take their arguments seriously, their perspective seriously. They’re a proxy for how people out there”—the voters—“will hear it.”

As for the personal note, this will (likely) be my last piece for TNR for the next eight months, as I'll be on leave wrapping up a book about the Obama economic team. For those who can't imagine the prospect of several months without my prose, I'd suggest counseling. If that doesn't work, I'd stick with it--these pathologies take time to work out. If that still doesn't work, then you can always follow me on Twitter - @noamscheiber. That's the one place I'll be making contact with the outside world between now and the book deadline. (And, yes, I'm the guy who wrote this, this, this, this, this, and this. Sue me...)

Finally, the Geithner personal note:

It's not exactly a headline-grabber, but one intriguing moment of my two-plus hours of conversation with him involved the book Wolf Hall, I'd heard he'd loved:

Friends and colleagues had told me Geithner had a literary streak—one recalled seeing him reading Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses on a plane-ride to Japan in the early ’90s. I wanted to discuss what I’d heard was his favorite recent novel, Wolf Hall, the fictionalized account of Henry VIII’s powerful courtier Thomas Cromwell. I asked if he related to Cromwell, an untitled lawyer who’d ascended to Henry’s inner circle on the strength of his wits.

“I don’t see myself in that way. I thought he was a cool character, a really interesting story,” Geithner said. Then he riffed on his favorite moment in the book. The passage depicts one of Cromwell’s earliest conversations with the king-essentially his audition. “You said in the Parliament, some six years ago, that I could not afford a war,” the king submits. Cromwell deliberates for a split second, then decides to take the bait. “No ruler in the history of the world has ever been able to afford a war. They’re not affordable things. No prince ever says, ‘This is my budget, so this is the kind of war I can have.’” “It’s an awesome line about the fundamental responsibility of governing,” Geithner told me. “It’s fundamentally about making people understand that there are limits.”

In the end, Geithner triumphed internally because he made the White House understand that there were limits to what the government could do in its attempts to fix the banks. But convincing the West Wing was just the beginning.

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posted in: jonathan chait, economy, noam scheiber, thomas cromwell, tim geithner, white house

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