For the past couple of days there's been talk about a perceived double standard at the heart of the administration's auto policy. From the left, or thereabouts, comes the question of why Obama would force out GM CEO Rick Wagoner but leave Bank of America's Ken Lewis in place. From the right, more or less, comes the question of why Obama would jettison Wagoner but allow Ron Gettelfinger to keep the top job at United Autoworkers.
Most of the discussion focused on the symbolic nature of the management shift: The administration needed to create the perception a new direction, show it was getting tough, and so forth. But now it's become clear that the administration is also interested in replacing all or some of GM's board. And Tim Geithner is defending that move in substantive terms -- not as part of a symbolic "new direction." Here's what he told Katie Couric:
"We have changed management board[s]," he said. "And where we've done that, we've done it because we thought that was necessary to make sure these institutions emerge stronger in the future."
But is replacing the CEO and the board of a company really that different from nationalizing it? I know that the government doesn't own any shares of GM, and I know the new board members won't be getting paychecks signed by Rahm Emmanuel. But the government is basically doing what an involved majority shareholder would do if it were unhappy with the management: It's cleaning house.