Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told an audience of the country’s elite Wednesday that he sympathizes with the underlying loss of faith anti-Wall Street protesters and other Americans have in the country’s ruling class — though not specifically for the growing “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement itself. But at the same time he expressed astonishment and dismay at Wall Street’s loss of faith in President Obama and the administration.
The juxtaposition is striking, and illustrates how at odds the anti-Wall Street movement is with the administration.
“I feel a lot of sympathy for what you might describe as the general sense among Americans as whether we’ve lost the sense of possibility and whether after a pretty bad lost decade in terms of income growth or fiscal responsibility…followed by a devastating crisis, huge loss of faith in public institutions, people do wonder whether we have the ability to do things that can help the average sense of opportunity in the country,” Geithner said at The Atlantic’s Ideas Forum, just a few blocks from both the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
Though he’s a career regulator who’s never worked for a financial institution, Geithner’s no hero to the nation’s growing anti-Wall Street protest movement. Indeed Geithner’s critics regard him as an obstacle to the sorts of tough regulations and reforms they believe Wall Street needs.
Geithner didn’t go to bat for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spread across the country over the last several days. He didn’t even go quite as far as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke who on Tuesday said he “can’t blame” the protesters for directing their ire at the financial sector. To the contrary, Geithner expressed dismay at the fact that many Wall Street executives have grown to loathe President Obama over the last two years.
“I think it’s inexplicable,” Geithner said. “They — people resent when they need help. It’s a natural thing.”
They resent the huge amount of public anger they’ve been subjected to because they caused the crisis — they sometimes claim, they think it was created by us, which I think is a deeply unfair judgment. And they react to what is pretty modest, common-sense observations about the system as if they’re deep affronts to the dignity of their profession. And I don’t understand why they’re so sensitive. But they’re very wounded, and they’ve seen a huge amount of damage to peoples’ confidence in their capacity to not just manage risk and to meet the needs of their customers, but in the broader public consciousness. And they’d like us to heal that for them, and they ask me all the time, Why can’t you heal that for us? And I say to them, i think reasonably, that’s something you’ve got to earn back yourself. We can’t do that for you.
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Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.