Jamie Dimon for Treasury chief? Or will Geithner be Obama's Rumsfeld?
During the reign of America's 43rd president, calls came in to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who took the blame for the administration's failure to deliver a quick military victory in Iraq. But George W. Bush refused to give in to those who wanted Rumsfeld's head until after the 2006 midterm election. Now, as another midterm election approaches, I wonder whether President Obama is taking the same attitude toward Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have a very definite opinion about this issue. For example, when Geithner first testified in front of Congress about his plan for fixing the financial system, I thought he could have done better. And I've been disappointed with the administration's failure to sufficiently investigate the causes of the financial collapse and fix what went wrong. I attribute that to Wall Street's having effectively purchased the Treasury Secretary's position.
The most recent calls for Geithner's head came in the wake of an investigative report that he caved in too easily to demands from banks to get 100 cents on the dollar for their credit default swaps with American International Group (AIG). Now, the New York Post floats the idea of replacing Geithner with JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, who has been spending time in Washington and is said to be popular there.
I think Dimon might actually be a good fit for the Treasury position, although I don't know if he has the experience to deal with the many conflicting pressures in Washington. After all, pitched political battles are going on all over -- most intensely between those who favor punishing Wall Street and those who want to defend it so that they can keep getting its campaign contributions and lobbying fees. It's hard to see Dimon siding with those who want to penalize the Street.
I also wonder whether Obama will follow Bush in putting his own desire not to be bullied into making a personnel decision ahead of the best interests of the country. My hunch is that if Dimon wanted the job, he could get confirmed easily. And despite his lack of experience in Washington, he could probably outperform Geithner pretty easily.
The ball is in Obama's court now.
Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor and author of nine books, includingCapital Rising (due in June 2010). Follow him on Twitter. He owns AIG shares and has no financial interest in the other securities mentioned.