Too often a tedious standoff between the somnolent/dry and the grandstanding/gratuitous, Congressional hearings about the financial crisis have nevertheless produced a few moments of existential clarity. (We refer, obviously, to the time in December when Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings asked Neel Kashkari if he was a “chump”, which was surely a question on the lips of anyone who had glimpsed the then-TARP overseer’s high school yearbook photos.)
But Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s appearance before a the TARP oversight panel this morning yielded a similarly exchange when AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Damon Silvers dared to accuse Geithner of being a “banker”:
Partial transcript after the jump.
“I’m a lawyer and you’re a banker,” Silvers said at one point during a disagreement over the way the public’s exposure to risk was being presented in a chart.A large part of Geithner’s ineffectiveness, as New York magazine explained last month, seems rooted in the fact that both Wall Street and Main Street seem to think he’s playing for the other team:
Geithner interrupted: “I’ve always been in public service,” he said. Silvers went on, “But you were a banker.”
“I’ve never been a banker,” Geithner said. The secretary has worked in the public sector for just about all of his career, serving in the Treasury Department across three administrations, working for the IMF and his most recent job as head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Perhaps Silvers meant that Geithner had been a central banker?
Silvers’ time for questioning had run out as the issue was being resolved. But former Sen. John Sununu took it up as his time began. “I’d never confuse you for an investment banker,” Sununu said.
Geithner responded: “I don’t think you meant that as a compliment, but I’ll take it that way.”
To some in the White House, the sight of the financial world turning hard against Geithner is curious, even baffling. What the Obamans thought they were getting in him was Wall Street’s guy. “They don’t get it,” says one name-brand Democratic banker. “Geithner was a $500,000-a-year guy. He was the regulator. People knew him, liked him fine, but he was never a member of the club.”Former Bear Stearns chairman, of course, Jimmy Cayne is slightly less diplomatic on the subject of the Treasury Secretary, who oversaw the failure of his bank:
“The audacity of that prick in front of the American people announcing he was deciding whether or not a firm of this stature and this whatever was good enough to get a loan,” he said. “Like he was the determining factor, and it’s like a flea on his back, floating down underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, getting a hard-on, saying, ‘Raise the bridge.’ This guy thinks he’s got a big dick. He’s got nothing, except maybe a boyfriend. I’m not a good enemy. I’m a very bad enemy. But certain things really—that bothered me plenty. It’s just that for some clerk to make a decision based on what, your own personal feeling about whether or not they’re a good credit? Who the fuck asked you? You’re not an elected officer. You’re a clerk. Believe me, you’re a clerk. I want to open up on this fucker, that’s all I can tell you.”But if Geithner can create common ground between Jimmy Cayne and Liz Warren, maybe they’re just keeping him around to dispatch to southern Afghanistan.