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Monday, March 23, 2009

Assistant Treasury Secretary Spitzer?

(image via salon)

Spitzer For Assistant Treasury Secretary? Yesterday we proposed that Spitzer should be Treasury Secretary.

Obviously, that's not going to happen.

So -- what about Assistant Treasury Secretary? Many desks at Treasury are empty because, well, no one wants to be on that side of the blame game. And then there are the tax issues. Anyone who is nominated for Asst. Treasury Secretary will be vetted in the public marketplace just like Secretary Geithner was. The fear is that anyone associated with the Treasury will be dragged through the mud and their entire tax history will be examined in the digital media with a fine-toothed comb.

And all this for a government salary, besides. Not worth the risk to the qualified, who are already rich beyond measure.

So why not Eliot Spitzer -- he has already been vetted in the public arena and survived, if barely. There are no more secrets to Eliot Spitzer. We know that he likes to wear socks and no condom to bed with call girls. That is now over and he paid with the Governorship and the respect of his family and any chance that he will ever be the first Jewish President.

Former Governor Eliot Spitzer fell spectacularly, like Icarus, from his glorious perch atop The Empire State into the semi-obscurity of Slate. But his usefulness, as evidenced by his massive knowledge of the inner workings of Wall Street finance, is still evident (for further reference see his interview on Fareed Zakaria's GPS). And America is in the Hour of the Wolf. We are not, one cannot fail to note, in a position to deny an eminently qualified man a position to fix the Economy because of a morals clause.

More importantly, Spitzer's Righteousness -- Overrighteousness? -- in prosecuting the excesses of Wall Street was the perfect antidote to the excessive Thumos and testosteronal Chimpanzee aggression of finance post-Glass-Steagle during the Clinton's Second Administration. It almost seems prophetic now, in retrospect. And now we have Summers and Geithner, as Inside as you can get (Exaggerated cough suggesting feigned detachment).

What is to be done? Katrina Van Den Heuvel, our old boss from The Nation (we interned there in the summer of 12995), thinks he ought to be made secretary of the Treasury. From The Nation:

"As head of the NY Federal Reserve, Geithner was complicit in the opaque and questionable bailout of AIG. So how then can he effectively carry out the kinds of policies needed at this defining moment of crisis and fury? On a more symbolic level, even his training sessions with elite media and messaging guru Michael Sheehan haven't helped Geithner become a strong or plausible communicator of whatever that day's plan is. The country sees a shrinking Secretary--which leads to loss of confidence.

"We deserve a Treasury Secretary who hasn't been a player in Wall Street's lifestyle of bonuses and legalized corruption. Nobel Prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman would be strong choices; yet they are increasingly valuable as watchdogs and constructive critics working outside the Administration. I've also thought that Obama would be smart to promote former Economic Policy Institute Fellow Jared Bernstein, who is currently serving as Biden's chief economic adviser.

"Then there's a novel idea. Why not bring in the man who took on Wall Street and AIG long before it was trendy? Eliot Spitzer. Call me crazy. But he foresaw the bubbles and disasters resulting from deregulatory frenzy and the financial service industry's creation of toxic credit default swaps and derivatives. As the Sherriff of Wall Street, Spitzer launched investigations and lawsuits deploying the creative cudgel of the previously-obscure 1921 Martin Act. Yes, he acted miserably toward his wife and family and he should pay the price for that. But some believe Spitzer was taken down by certain 'masters of the universe' seeking vengeance for his aggressive policing of their financial fraud and corruption."

There is some logic to this. No one could argue that Spitzer is unqualified and he is, unlike Geithner, a sharp and effective communicator. Second, Spitzer is the perfect outsider's insider -- knowledgeable about financial shenanigans but not wed to the culture. Third -- and most important -- Spitzer has to earn his redemption. He would be the hardest working Assistant T-Sec, trying, with every working day, to regain the respect of the American people. Spitzer's primary motivation appears to be an ambition to redeem his name. President Obama would do well to harness that ambition -- and talent and insider's knowledge -- for the good of the country and the Treasury Department, which has far too many vacancies at this moment of national exigency.

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