Do Obama and Geithner Have the Same Flaw: Accommodation Instead of Moral Action?
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A lot of us have been wondering, despondently, why the Hell Barack Obama is keeping Timothy Geithner on the job as Treasury Secretary, given his central role in the plunder of trillions of dollars from American taxpayers, and his record of subverting democracy in the service of Wall Street billionaires. Geithner's the guy that drove the getaway car in the heist -- so why was he hired to run the Treasury? You'd expect to see a guy as corrupt as Geithner serving as the Finance Minister in some Central Asian autocracy -- but not in Barack Obama's government, not after all he promised in the campaign.
Maybe a better question is: Why did Obama choose Geithner in the first place? On the surface, those two are supposed to be on relatively opposite ends of the American spectrum: Geithner is an East Coast Republican blue-blood whose catastrophic tenure at the New York Fed represented everything Obama -- a half-Kenyan liberal Democrat from America's western-most state -- promised to change for the better.
The most recent hope-crushing revelation about Geithner -- emails showing that the New York Fed under Geithner's watch forced AIG to lie to the public in order cover up tens of billions of taxpayer dollars that were being funneled through AIG and out the backdoor to top financial institutions like Goldman Sachs -- proves once and for all that Geithner is the worst choice imaginable for the job. He's the epitome of the sort of incompetence, sleaze and corruption that Bush specialized in -- so why did Obama name him, and why is he sticking by him?
So far the most convincing rational explanation I've read comes from William Black, the former Savings & Loan investigator-hero who understands public-private corruption in this country like few others. Prof. Black, like a true prosecutor, puts Geithner's rise to head the Treasury in simple crime-world terms: he's there to cover up his own heist. All across the board, as Black has pointed out, the same perps who caused the collapse of the financial system and the looting of all those trillions are all in positions of power to cover up their crimes, and keep the details out of the public eye.
But there are also other, deeper, personal reasons too. I came across some rather disturbing biographical similarities between Obama and Geithner that show why Obama might be more comfortable with a guy like Geithner on a deeper, mammalian level.
Even though Geithner and Obama come from such different backgrounds and from different political parties, both have strikingly similar temperaments -- both earned reputations as conciliators and centrists in campus debates at their respective Ivy League schools, over the very same hot-button issue: affirmative action.
In the early 1980s, when little Tim Geithner was a student at Dartmouth (following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather), he reportedly made his first big mark on campus by inserting himself in the middle of a nasty battle over the university's affirmative action program. The reason it got so nasty was because the anti-affirmative action movement was being led by the notoriously racist, homophobic Dartmouth Review, a new student paper founded while Geithner was a student, funded and patronized by some of the biggest names in the emerging American rightwing: Irving Kristol (Bill Kristol's daddy), William Buckley of the National Review, and the conservative Republican Jack Kemp. The Dartmouth Review's editor at that time was Dinesh D'Souza, an Indian immigrant eager to play the suck-up waterboy to the university's white rightwing elite -- even if that meant being their dark-skinned face of elitist white racism.
Under D'Souza's editorship, the Review not only attacked the very same affirmative action that helped D'Souza get into Dartmouth, but it also published the sort of rank racist drivel that would have made George Wallace wince. One such article was described as a "lighthearted interview with a former Klan leader" -- which D'Souza illustrated with a staged photo of a black man hanging from a tree on Dartmouth's campus. Another Review article on affirmative action was even more racist: It was headlined "Dis Sho Ain't No Jive, Bro," and it included lines such as, "Now we be comin' to Dartmut and be up over our 'fros in studies, but we still be not graduatin' Phi Beta Kappa." It was so offensive that even Jack Kemp, a hero in the National Review rightwing crowd, resigned from the Dartmouth Review's advisory board in disgust.
Young Tim Geithner was a student at Dartmouth at the same time D'Souza was -- meaning he saw the whole thing develop. When the racist articles were published, the student body was practically in revolt, and according to a Bloomberg article published last year, some students were so pissed off they were gearing up to mob-attack D'Souza. That would have been the sane, decent thing to do -- hunt D'Souza down brand "Suck-Up" across his forehead. But little Timothy Geithner, the "natural mediator," was more concerned with keeping things as they were, playing the role of human lubricant. Some today might think that this shows something decent and solid in Geithner's character -- but in fact, it reveals a total absence of ethical engagement, and instead, a natural willingness to preserve the status quo, no matter how warped and loathsome that status quo is. D'Souza should have been chased out of America and out of the Western Hemisphere for good; but Geithner saved him, according to a Bloomberg article: