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Geithner: The Reluctant Treasury Secretary

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Is it a good idea for America to have a reluctant Treasury Secretary while the economy seems to be running out of steam?

The New York Times ran a story this morning on the subject of Secretary Tim Geithner's tenure under the headline "Pressured by White House, Treasury Secretary Is Expected to Stay at Post."

A lot of people seem to be confused by the headline. It doesn't say Geithner is staying in office. In fact, the story goes on to make it clear that Geithner's staff is uncertain what he will do. This uncertainty isn't just confined to staffers; Geithner is uncertain himself.

"Mr. Geithner has not yet notified the White House of his intentions, and family considerations could still win out, advisers say," the story explains.

The "family considerations" are quite serious. Geithner's wife and son have left him to move back up to New York, where Geithner lived when he was head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He never sold his house in Larchmont, N.Y., a posh-ish suburb of New York City. It's not easy for any man who cares very much for his family to live apart from them, especially in a job that is punishing and often invokes public outrage. The right dislikes Geithner, the left dislikes Geithner, and even moderates seem to think he should go.

But the Obama administration is strongly behind him. And that's not nothing. When the president tells you that your country needs you to stay in the top economic job in the administration, it is very hard to leave.

I'm not sure that's such a good idea. Do we really want a reluctant Treasury Secretary? It seems like it might be a better idea to have someone fully engaged, full of fresh energy, not scarred by the battles of the financial crisis, the bailouts, and the debt ceiling.

If Geithner wants to go, or if he's just uncertain what he should do, let's let him go.

From the New York Times:

On Monday, after the previous night’s announcement of the debt accord, Mr. Geithner convened advisers to talk about his future agenda, including dealing with the European debt crisis, housing and overhauling the corporate tax code. Aides say they took that as a clue he was staying, only to wonder on Tuesday, when a photographer came in to capture Mr. Geithner watching the final vote for the debt deal, if the photos were intended as a record of Mr. Geithner’s final days.

Especially in recent weeks, the issue has become a running joke, officials say: Mr. Geithner and [Chief of Staff William] Daley tease about the ankle bracelet that the White House makes him wear, or Mr. Geithner asks if Mr. Daley has yet read his resignation letter, to which Mr. Daley answers in unprintable language.

When staffers think that having a photographer follow you around means you are having your final days photographed, it is time to go.

When you regularly make jokes about submitting your resignation letter, it is time to go.

When you're moving markets because of your continued uncertainty about whether you will stay in office, it is time to go.

That said, I'm officially out of the business of predicting whether Geithner will resign. I first predicted Geithner would go way back in December 2009. And I predicted it again in January 2010.

In my defense, I withdrew this prediction in February 2010. But I'm done with trying to figure out what Secretary Geithner will do.

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