Geithner, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, offers us the following vignette:
My wife occasionally looks up from the newspaper with bewilderment while reading another story about people in the financial world or their lobbyists complaining about Wall Street reform or claiming they didn’t need the Troubled Asset Relief Program. She reminds me of the panicked calls she answered for me at home late at night or early in the morning in 2008 from the then-giants of our financial system.
His wife. Huh.
Why is she there?
Timothy Geithner, you see, is a real flesh-and-blood man, as the preceding hackneyed attempt at gesturing towards the attitudes of everyday Americans is supposed to remind us. His real flesh-and-blood wife, invoked prosopopeia-ically, is the only thing that keeps Geithner anchored to some approximation of Life on Earth.
(Apparently they went to Dartmouth together. That’s adorable.)
In a game with some friends on Twitter, I suggested and others contributed novelistic touches, to complete the gesture.
I especially like Neil’s imperceptible moaning. Nice touch.
Jokes aside, the Treasury is not a person. The Treasury can accuse no one of ingratitude, a slight which it is unable to feel, not being, you know, a person. If the Treasury were to have a wife, however, who really keeps it/him grounded, well, it would be possible to authorize a new kind of moral claim, one grounded on mores grounded in human sociability, from which institutions are ordinarily excluded, even those institutions with regulatory authority over those who treat them so shabbily. This is the obverse of the right-wing claim in which the government, like a household, should “tighten its belt” in hard times. That argument is pro-cyclical and stupid, of course, and I agree with Geithner’s argument for regulation. That said, it’s important to recognize that the two arguments share a rhetorical basis.
(A related note on the Treasury Secretary’s prose: His sentences are long and curiously comma-less, and they plod along breathlessly, as if Geithner no longer needs the register of speech. Seriously: try to read that passage aloud. The ‘or their lobbyists’ in the first sentence is just agony.)