Tom Frank's book, The Wrecking Crew explains how the Bush administration destroyed effective government and damaged our social fabric and our economy. The Obama administration has chosen to reward two of the worst leaders of Bush's crew -- Geithner and Bernanke -- with promotion and reappointment. Embracing the Wrecking Crew's most destructive members has further damaged the economy and caused increasing political and moral injury to the administration.
Last week was a bad one for Geithner and Bernanke. Senator Dodd said that Bernanke's confirmation was no longer a done deal. The House Financial Services Committee revolted against the administration, the Fed, and Chairman Barney Frank. It voted for a strong bill to audit the Fed. Senate Banking Chairman Schumer went to a conference at Columbia University -- where a generation of students salivated at the prospects of Wall Street wealth -- and was overwhelmed by an audience denouncing the continuing stranglehold of the finance industry over successive administrations and the Congress. Neither Barney's blarney nor Schumer's schmooze was any avail before an outraged public.
The administration promptly secured a column in the Washington Post claiming that the effort to fire Geithner "buoy[ed]" him because, as the subtitle to the article explained: "Even ex-Bush aides sympathetic, sources say." The article didn't note that Geithner is an "ex-Bush" senior official who, with his fellow "ex-Bush aides" (particularly Bernanke and Paulson) produced a chain of disasters: the bubble, an "epidemic of mortgage fraud" by lenders, the Great Recession, and the scandalous TARP and AIG bailouts. Of course they're "sympathetic" to a fellow member of the Wrecking Crew that destroyed effective regulation and turned the nation over to Wall Street. The craziest part of the story is that the anonymous Obama administration flack that spread this anecdote believes that we should support Geithner because his fellow members of the Bush Wrecking Crew empathize with him because they, too, have been criticized for wrecking the economy.
The Washington Post article then offers a metaphor that serves as an apology for the Bush Wrecking Crew. The metaphor is driving over a cliff: "'Secretary Geithner has helped steer the American economy back from the brink, and is now leading the effort on financial reform,' White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said." Geithner pushed back against Republicans who questioned his performance, telling them, "you gave this president an economy falling off the cliff."
You? How about we? Bush's financial Wrecking Crew "gave this president an economy falling off the cliff." Geithner was President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from October 23, 2003 until President Obama chose him as his Treasury Secretary. He was supposed to be the lead regulator of many of the largest bank holding companies. His failures as a regulator were a major cause of the "economy falling off the cliff." Bernanke held prominent positions in the Bush administration from 2002 to the end of the administration and failed as a regulator an economist. Geithner and Bernanke failed to regulate even after the FBI publicly warned in September 2004 that (1) there was an "epidemic" of mortgage fraud and (2) it would lead to a financial crisis if it were not contained. Their refusal to take responsibility for the harm they inflicted on our nation as leaders of Bush's financial Wrecking Crew adds to their unsuitability. Rewarding their perennial failures with a promotion and reappointment represents a dereliction of duty by the Obama administration.
The administration apologists praise Geithner and Bernanke for "steer[ing] the American economy back from the brink." Greenspan, Paulson, Bernanke, and Geithner were the leaders of Bush's financial Wrecking Crew. They were the guys blinded by their pro-Wall Street ideology that drove the car 120 mph down an icy mountain road and lost control of it. They took us to the "brink" of running "off the cliff" and creating the Second Great Depression. The bizarre claim is that we should praise them because they, and Wall Street, only wrecked the economy -- they haven't (yet) utterly destroyed it. Under their metaphor, we're supposed to cheer Geithner and Bernanke because once they finally figured out that they were careening toward the cliff, they decided to sideswipe a row of trees in order to avoid going over the edge. They wrecked the car but they walked away from the crash without a scratch. If your teenager gets drunk, speeds, crashes into a school bus (injuring dozens of kids), and flips the Ford Focus -- but walks away from the crash -- you don't praise him, give him the keys to the family minivan, and have him drive the soccer team to practices. You take all the keys away from him and ground him.
The Obama administration promoted Bush's architects of the financial disaster and demands that we hail them as heroes. President Bush was ridiculed for saying: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." FEMA administrator Michael Brown stood by while Hurricane Katrina reduced a single large city to ruin. Geithner and Bernanke stood by while scores of large cities were devastated.
I suggest that we will build on the momentum we've achieved on the Fed audit by making the following issues our near term financial priorities:
- Can the Wrecking Crew. Fire the senior leaders of Bush's and Clinton's financial Wrecking Crews and stopping treating them as financial experts. President Obama should not reappoint Bernanke as Fed Chairman. He should dismiss Geithner and Summers and cease to take any advise from Rubin. Replace them with the Reconstruction Crew -- people with a track record of getting things right and being effective economists, regulators, and prosecutors. Members of Bush's financial Wrecking Crew run far too many regulatory agencies, often as "Actings." They can, and should, be replaced promptly.
This piece originally appeared on New Deal 2.0.