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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Primacy of Confidence

Barack Obama missed a good opportunity this week in persuading Timothy Geithner to stay on as Treasury Secretary. By most public accounts, Geithner had planned to resign after seeing him through the debt imbroglio; no doubt the man must be exhausted. And no doubt the last thing Obama needs now is a tough confirmation fight over a successor in so sensitive an area.

It’s no accident that nearly all of Obama’s economic team has left, save Geithner. He is capable, shrewd and diligent. Unfortunately these virtues, such as they are, do not make themselves evident in public. That would be fine if there were one or two others in the administration who did inspire strength and confidence; but there are not.

For his part, Obama really must stop bashing the rich; he must stop chastising companies for hoarding cash instead of hiring workers; he must stop telling the American people and the rest of the world to grin and bear it, that we’re all on the sinking ship together; he must figure out how to project optimism and confidence; he must stop telling and start showing.

A new face at Treasury would help: Someone like Robert Zoellick, who is doing solid work on the margins at the World Bank; or someone similar like Robert Kimmitt who speaks the pragmatic language of confidence and good sense that Obama and Geithner lack. That both men have served mainly in Republican adminstrations would do Obama credit, just as Robert Gates made his life much easier at the Pentagon.

For there are more dire times to come when perception, like it or not, is reality.


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