Geithnerpauljrichardsafpgetty

In a rare outing in public, he's on Capitol Hill today, and we learn from the WSJ that

No decision has been made on the final structure of what the administration is calling a private-public financing partnership, but one leading idea is to establish separate funds to be run by private investment managers. The managers would have to put up a certain amount of capital. Additional financing would come from the government, which would share in any profit or loss.

The Dow is cratering; they've had months to come up with a plan, but they're still having a seminar. The gist of Noam Scheiber's piece on the Treasury Department is that they're too scared to seize the banks temporarily for political reasons, and too skittish to run the banks even for a short period of time. But staggering on for years slowly bleeding money to the banks ... that's just political heaven, isn't it?

I'm a pretty sympathetic Obama supporter. I'd like to know what the Treasury secretary actually proposes with respect to the banking crisis. Is that really too much to ask? Maybe he'll tell us today. Who knows? He should be a critical force in explaining the government's economic policies, and yet he seems incapable of conveying anything to the American public whom he serves. He came across in his debut as a terrified intern who hadn't mastered his brief. And his political presence since has been pathetic. Then there's this:

Whatever the details, Geithner and his colleagues are said to be deeply uncomfortable with the idea in principle. "Most people who run businesses in this area ... would look to nationalization as a last step--if it was the only thing standing between us and the abyss," says Michael Granoff, a private-equity fund manager who is friendly with several senior administration officials. "The people in charge of the economic policy side of things have pretty good communication with the people ... who sit where I sit," he says. "There is a shared understanding in these conversations."

Great: a man so comfy with the people who took us into this abyss he cannot face them down when the circumstances require it. I know there are issues of confidence in talking out loud about all this; and I've aired many of the arguments against bank nationalization. But the markets are tanking because they don't have any certainty about where the administration intends to take us. Geithner is a liability in this respect. So far, he's drained confidence, not built it. And look: If Obama has the balls to announce a massive long-term increase in government spending and borrowing, a withdrawal by date certain from Iraq, and a halving of the deficit in his first term, he should have the balls to grasp the banking nettle, before it grasps him.

(Photo: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty.)

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