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Do Obama and Geithner Have the Same Flaw: Accommodation Instead of Moral Action?

Tim Geithner has a long history of caving to moral pressures and smoothing over colossal failures. But his personality is much like Obama. Maybe that's how he keeps his job.

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From his years as a Dartmouth College student and mid-level Treasury official through his stint at the New York Fed, Geithner, 47, has thrived as a backroom negotiator and conciliator.

Geithner's knack for diplomacy surfaced in the midst of student demonstrations over affirmative action. The Dartmouth Review, a student biweekly, was edited by Dinesh D'Souza, a social conservative who later rose to prominence with books attacking multiculturalism and feminism.

The Review lambasted what it called Dartmouth's liberal bias and its minority admission policies, riling many students. During gatherings in which some students said D'Souza should be attacked, Geithner calmed them down, proposing that they start an alternative publication, says Rudelson, the former roommate. Geithner kept his distance from the new publication, called the Harbinger, occasionally taking photos for it.

"He was always the natural mediator," Rudelson says. "He had this amazing ability to listen to people, no matter how extreme their views might be."

So we can see early on in his life that Timothy Geither, even when confronted with the most obvious ethical choice -- fighting racism -- our Treasury Secretary chose instead to protect and preserve both the racists and the anti-racists. And that is another way of saying, Geithner protected the bad guys. After all, they're the ones who needed to be preserved -- they needed a "mediator" who legitimized their presence, a mediator who appeared to be "in the middle" and "without an agenda" to preserve and protect them. Geithner was that man.

The result: D'Souza went on to become a highly-influential rightwing author and an inspiration to scores of waffentwerps, earning millions for himself by promoting racism and bashing the disadvantaged. One of D'Souza's first proteges was that human lamprey and radio host Laura Ingraham, whose first big article for D'Souza was to publish the names of students who belonged to Dartmouth's Gay & Lesbian Union. Many students were devastated by the outing: One gay student reportedly dropped out, and another reportedly attempted suicide. (Ingraham's brother, ironically enough, was gay.)

Ingraham later dated Larry Summers, who was Geithner's boss in the 1990s, and whom Obama picked to run the economy from the White House. Summers, as we know, created controversy while he was president at Harvard by picking fights with prominent African-American academics, and his claims that women were genetically inferior at mathematics and science. You can see how this depressing picture is starting to come together -- because Obama picked these guys to run our economy.

Anyway getting back to Obama-Geithner -- in the early 1990s, a decade after Geithner protected D'Souza from a mob of angry students, Barack Obama found himself in a similar situation at Harvard law school. Obama had been named the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, meaning he had to take a stand on one of the biggest issues dividing the law school's students: affirmative action. Keep in mind that, without affirmative action, it's unlikely that Barack Obama would have been where he was, at Harvard Law, the first African-American editor of the esteemed school's legal magazine. Not because Obama wasn't qualified, but because affirmative action made it harder for the entrenched white elite to keep all the slots to themselves.

So how did Obama handle the battle between rightwing anti-affirmative action students and liberals? Just like Geithner would have. According to a profile a couple of years ago in the Boston Globe:

Classmates recall an especially emotional debate in the spring of 1990 over affirmative action, which conservative students wanted to abolish.

Presiding over an assembly of 60 mostly white editors in a law school classroom, Obama listened to impassioned pleas and pressed conservatives to explain their reasoning and liberals to sharpen their thinking. But he never spoke about his own point of view or mentioned that he believed he had benefited from affirmative action. "If anybody had walked by, they would have assumed he was a professor," said Thomas J. Perrelli, a classmate and former counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno. "He was leading the discussion but he wasn't trying to impose his own perspective on it. He was much more mediating."

Obama was so evenhanded and solicitous in his interactions that fellow students would do impressions of his Socratic chin-stroking approach to everything, even seeking a consensus on popcorn preferences at the movies. "Do you want salt on your popcorn?" one classmate, Nancy L. McCullough, recalled, mimicking his sensitive bass voice. "Do you even want popcorn?"

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