Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, 47, was under fire again, some of it clearly fratricidal. Meanwhile, a talented and complaisant reporter, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, rolled out a 6,000-word cover story assembled with the full cooperation of National Economic Council chair Lawrence Summers, 53: ''Springtime for Summers? Why the White House Needs to Unleash Him.''
Unleash him? Presumably he had in mind sending Summers back to the Treasury Department, which he had 18 months at the end of the Clinton administration. ...
Then Geithner himself ran into confirmation problems - those $40,000 in underpaid taxes in the years when he was moving from Washington to New York - and barely squeaked through on a 60-34 vote.
His first tentative plans to restore banking stability underwhelmed markets; his role in the initial AIG bailout (when he was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) came under fire; Democrats criticized his communication skills; and last week he was caught in a wicked crossfire over those bonuses....
No doubt that Summers possesses the skills to be a highly effective finance chief, beginning with the fact that he grew up as an economists in an intensely competitive arena, the quasi-official non-governmental policy institute that is the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Since moving to Cambridge, Mass., from Manhattan, in 1973 - and especially since Harvard professor Martin Feldstein (Summers's thesis adviser) became president, in 1978 - the NBER has become policy economists' West Point, a highly selective academy in which future leaders of the profession from all over the world meet, match wits, and learn to assess each others' strengths and weaknesses.
Indeed, much of the aura of unquestioned deference that Summers enjoys among his policy-circle peers derives from having successfully persuaded others of his credentials as an alpha male in innumerable late-night bull sessions in the early 1980s in the NBER offices, located midway between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been remarkably good at forging alliances as well. Since entering the political world full-time, in 1990, as chief economist for the World Bank, he has honed a second array of skills, including a deliberate manner of speech that conveys gravitas, disarming humor, a comfortable girth, and a baleful glare.
Geithner, on the other hand, has no such base among an academic discipline. Nor do his boyish face, runner's frame, or matter-of-fact delivery convey authority through a microphone (he has plenty of power in a conference room).
And I further imagine that a bit of Tim Geithner's image problem is that he came along and partly validated this pre-existing stereotype of what a "Tim" should be like, and then he got a lot of the rest of the stereotype dumped on him.
P.S. A reader points out that psychologists talk about the "Bouba/Kiki Effect:" they draw a jagged shape and a rounded shaped and ask people which one is most likely to be a "Bouba" and which one a "Kiki"? To find out what most people around the world think, see here. The implication is that how a word sounds is not wholly arbitrary. So, maybe Tim Geithner really does seem like what people expect a Tim to be like.
P.P.S. Also, the two Tiny Tims (Charles Dickens's and Johnny Carson's) don't help.