Sunday, August 2, 2009

Geithner's Swimming with Sharks at the Deep End of the Car Wash

Tim Geithner may turn out to be the best Treasury Secretary in American history.

But might appear to be the worst.

I'm watching him on This Week, doing his usual sort of interview, looking vaguely pained, uncomfortable. I recognize the expression. I wear it when I haven't taken a shit in several days. He has it when he has to talk to people.

Most guys that are geniuses with crunching numbers hate having to explain their process.

Unfortunately, cabinet secretaries are first and foremost communicators.

They should know just enough about their area of responsibility so as to not sound completely stupid on the Sunday morning talk circuit, but not a lot more is necessary. They can hire plenty of brilliant technical experts. And have a primary brainiac who acts sort of as their Chief Operating Officer while the secretary does the Chief Executive Officer hand waving that plays well to the shareholder/taxpayer audience, as well as to congress and other layperson decision makers.

I think the roles of CEO and COO are instructive here. The CEO should be all about vision and long term 'strategy' and communications. The COO gets it done.

Now you might say, "But the President is the country's 'CEO' and the cabinet secretaries are his 'COOs'." It's an easy but ultimately false analogy for something as large and diverse as the US government.

Well, not really a false analogy but rather more an incomplete one.

A better take is that of wholly owned subsidiaries, each of which runs a sufficiently large and, more importantly, different line of business. Each deserves its own strategy and vision guy: a CEO.

Generally, for a large company, if you have one person playing both roles, he or she better be of two divergent but brilliant minds or there be wolves, blood and slow death likely lurking in its future.

But back to Geithner. All nerves and jittery gestures and hemming and hawing. I've seen the same mannerisms from those that knew finance and numbers down deep in their bones. Idiot Savants. Of course, I've also seen it from plain Idiots. Does "middle America" know the difference? I'm not sure I do. And there's the rub.

But fuck all that. It's miserable thunder/lightning/rain, the Sunday morning news-talk shows are finito, and I'm grooving to the Retro channel's showing of Car Wash ('workin' at the Car Wash ... workin' at the Car Wash, yeah! mmmmmm Car Wash, yeah!'). I'd forgotten all the great appearances in this cheeseball romp. George Carlin! Ivan Dixon from Hogan's Heroes! Richard Pryor! Otis Day! 'Professor' Irwin Corey!

Shark Week on Discovery Channel's in full swing. No Quint to be had there so it can only be so good in my view. Quint (or rather another of Robert Shaw's variations of Quint) is alive and well and slightly more articulate in the person of Romer Treese in Flix's repeated airings of The Deep, also currently running just down the dial from its aforementioned Sudsy Soulful musical 1970s brethren. One of the first "adult" movies I was allowed to go to as a newly minted teen, I recall digging the Louis Gossett Voodoo witchdoctor riff in the Deep, many years before he'd be brow beating Officer and Gentleman candidate Zack Mayo-nnaise. And of course Jackie Bisset was the bee's knees of slightly older, hot woman at the time.

Anyway, time to shake the 1970s out of my hair and head out for a run: the storm appears to have broken.