Some Career Guidance Counseling Perhaps

Gail Collins is kidding (sort of), but few would quibble with this:

I am extremely angry at Tim Geithner for being such a baby that he couldn’t scare a bunch of American International Group quants into forgoing their bonuses. We need a Treasury secretary so terrifying that if you were stuck in an elevator alone with him, you would just automatically hand over your wallet and credit cards.

Really, Congress is in a tizzy, the president is in hot water, and the entire financial system is hung up because Tim Geithner didn’t have the nerve (or common sense) to say to AIG’s CEO, “Of course you have contracts, but so does the UAW. Now go back and work this out.” Or better yet, “Sure you might have contracts but all of your ‘stars’ were in breach for non-performance so tell them not to expect anything for a few years.”

And did Geithner really not know about the bonuses until last week or was it like those unpaid taxes — something that slipped through the cracks? (He did after all help craft the original AIG bailout while working at the Fed. And either he or “someone” in the Treasury cajoled the Senate to “fix” the bonus-nixing language in the stimulus bill.) As one observer noted, not since Alberto Gonzales has a cabinet official invited such overt contempt for his candor and competency.

Part of the problem is — let’s be frank — he doesn’t have the presence or the sense of stagecraft that the job requires. You don’t go before the financial mavens with your bank “plan” and say: “To be determined later.” You don’t go months without assistants. (And if vetting-gone-wild is the issue preventing  badly needed hiring, you should be raising a big fuss with the president.) You don’t go before Congress with a sweaty brow looking like a grad student searching the mental index cards for the right bit of data.

Everyone keeps saying how bright he is. But if he were really bright — not just filled with data or possessing technical acumen — he would realize he’s in the wrong job, find his own replacement, and see if he can get his old gig back at the New York Fed. Really, we’d all be fine with that. And the markets would throw one heck of a going away party.