By U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander
During a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee this week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said several times that there would be no economic recovery until we fix the banks and get credit flowing again. But the country is not yet persuaded that the government will or can do that.
I asked Secretary Geithner whether he is familiar with a book by Ernest May called "Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers." Ernest May's book ought to be required reading for any governmental decision maker because it argues that any crisis one may be presented – if you are Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Defense – usually has something in history to teach you a lesson.
The challenge facing President Obama and Secretary Geithner today is analogous to the one faced by President Eisenhower. He also promised change to the American people, and in his now-famous “I Shall Go to Korea” speech – delivered during his campaign in October 1952 – he declared he would end the Korean war.
General Eisenhower, in the final days of his first campaign for president, said: “That job requires a personal trip to Korea. I shall make that trip. Only in that way could I learn how best to serve the American people in the cause of peace. I shall go to Korea.”
The lesson is that he told the American people he had one objective in mind. Of all the things going on in 1952 – inflation and other problems – he focused on the one that only a president could deal with. The people believed him and they elected him. The war was ended, and the 1950s were a very prosperous time.
My respectful suggestion is that our new president say to the American people as soon as he can, in Eisenhower fashion: “I will fix the banks. I will get credit flowing again. I will take all these other important issues facing the country – health care, education, energy, on which I am eager to work – and I will make them subordinate to that goal. In the spirit of President Eisenhower: I will concentrate my full attention on fixing the banks until the job is honorably done.”
I believe that statement would be the beginning of the economic recovery, because lack of confidence is a big part of our problem. There are a lot of people who are not sure what is going to happen with the banks. The Administration doesn’t need to explain the whole problem to us anymore – Americans are looking for presidential leadership to olve the problem. The president needs to clear the deck: no more summits, no more trips in other directions. He should focus his attention on the banking problem facing the country until the job is honorably done.
If he does that, he can restore confidence in the American people and we can begin working our way out of this downturn.