My own appraisal of Tim Geithner's performance before a congressional panel Tuesday was less than enthusiastic. But it doesn't come close to the negativity heaped on the beleaguered treasury secretary in a new cover story in Portfolio. Other than pathetic "it's too soon to tell" disclaimers, Gary Weiss could not find anyone to put in a good word for Geithner.
The conventional wisdom certainly has shifted. A year ago, Weiss tells us, "former Federal Reserve chairmen Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan, as well as John Thain, then CEO of Merrill Lynch, and former New York Fed chief Gerald Corrigan -- were only too happy to share fond anecdotes about this youthful public official on the rise." Now, none of them want to be interviewed on the record, and instead, we are told by a bevy of critics that Geithner is a faceless bureaucrat who doesn't understand either economics or finance, and probably isn't even that good at math.
That seems unfair to me. As I've noted many times, Geithner was one of very few voices from within the Wall Street world (in his capacity as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) to warn of the possibility of a systemic meltdown related to proliferating credit derivatives. The speeches he made three years ago on such topics sounded like they were delivered by a man who knew what he was talking about. But they also sound strikingly different from the words spoken today by a man who now spends so much time avoiding specific answers to pointed questions from legislators.
One thing you won't get from Gary Weiss' profile is any evaluation of Geithner's actual policy proposals. That seems a little odd to me, since ultimately, what counts is not whether Geithner projects the take-charge confidence of a Hank Paulson or a Larry Summers, but whether the job gets done. Of course, there's no shortage of biting critiques to be found today of Geithner's plan to address the financial crisis, so maybe Weiss felt that hitting the treasury secretary there would be gratuitous piling on.