Tim Geithner's temper tantrum

The treasury secretary supposedly loses it while meeting with regulators. Crazy like a fox, or just crazy?

Published August 4, 2009 3:05PM (EDT)

So Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner does his best Rahm Emanuel impersonation, drops a few F-bombs, the Wall Street Journal's Damien Palleta and Deborah Solomon report the news, and chatter-shrapnel explodes from the econoblogosphere in every direction.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner blasted top U.S. financial regulators in an expletive-laced critique last Friday as frustration grows over the Obama administration's faltering plan to overhaul U.S. financial regulation, according to people familiar with the meeting....

Mr. Geithner told the regulators Friday that "enough is enough," said one person familiar with the meeting. Mr. Geithner said regulators had been given a chance to air their concerns, but that it was time to stop, this person said.

Time's Justin Fox says he feels "a certain sympathy with Timmy" in light of the ferocious turf wars that afflict any effort to construct a new framework of financial system regulation. Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith calls the behavior "bullying." Felix Salmon judges the tirade a tactical mistake that bodes ill for any successful reform. Noam Scheiber says it is all about a long-standing rift between Geithner and Sheila Bair, the head of the FDIC.

The Journal excerpts a slice of David Wessel's new book, "In Fed We Trust," that supports Scheiber's analysis, detailing a previous explosion of Geithner temper directed at Bair back when the fate of the ailing bank Wachovia was being decided. Certainly, Bair is a locus of resistance to the administration's proposal to centralize more regulatory authority in the Federal Reserve. But the whole affair seems more like a staged Kabuki exercise than a real boiling over of frustration. When Geithner appears in public he is invariably calm to the point of apparent over-prescribed sedation. You don't assemble the nation's top regulators in one room on a Friday night and then lose your cool, by accident. You do so fully expecting the news to make the papers.

But how much does it serve your agenda to have a front page Wall Street Journal article describe your regulation plan as "faltering"? Geithner successfully grabbed the attention of the chattering classes. Now what's he going to do with it?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bank Bailouts How The World Works Wall Street