Geithner vs. Warren

A couple people have written in to ask, in light of my long profile of Tim Geithner in the Atlantic earlier this year, what do I think of the Tim Geithner-versus-Elizabeth Warren meme that's cropped up in the media of late? Does he really hate her guts?

The answer is: I think it's overblown, and I certainly don't think he hates her guts. I attended a number of the hearings at which Warren dressed him down over this or that decision (often involving AIG), and while it didn't look like fun, it paled in comparison to some of the attacks launched by Republicans. More to the point, though, I didn't get the sense that any of it much bothered Geithner, who's a Washington veteran and understands that this simply comes with the territory, no big deal. My impression was that he thought Warren was plenty sophisticated to know the answers to many of what were posed to him as innocent questions, and that he found this mildly annoying. He regarded it as political theater, which is exactly what it was, and paid it no heed. My own feeling (then and now) is that he would have done better to pay it a bit more heed--Warren is a master at making the public case for her beliefs, which Geithner decidedly is not.

If the choice were Geithner's to make, I suspect he'd choose someone other than Warren. But maybe not. I thought Geithner was surprisingly fatalistic about the prospect of the administration ever receiving credit for halting the panic, and I hit this note toward the end of the piece. As many others have pointed out, the White House has been curiously ineffective at making the public case for its policies. So maybe Geithner has come around to viewing Warren's talents in a more positive light. In any event, the choice is not his to make, it's the president's--and as the triumphant return of Paul Volcker already demonstrated, Geithner's influence has its limits.