WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says he is baffled that Wall Street continues to oppose President Obama, even though administration officials bailed the financial industry out of the mess they created. In a speech on Wednesday, Geithner also commented on the growing protests around the country, saying he feels "sympathy" for Americans who are frustrated.
Geithner appeared at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, in a discussion moderated by Atlantic Editor-in-Chief James Bennet.
Bennet asked Geithner why Wall Street continues to fight Obama, even though "[n]o one has been a greater direct beneficiary than the financial community of the policies of this administration."
"You saved their companies, by and large, you saved their jobs, you even saved their bonuses. And they cannot stand this president now -- even people who supported him four years ago. Why? What explains that?" asked Bennet.
"I think it's inexplicable," responded Geithner. "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."
In recent months, Obama supporters have been trying to convince Wall Street executives that this administration has been friendly to them -- and is still worthy of their campaign donations in 2012.
"They sometimes claim that was created by us -- that anger -- which I think is a deeply unfair judgment," said Geithner. "They react to what is pretty modest, common-sense observations about this system as if they're deep affronts to the dignity of the profession, and I don't understand why they're so sensitive. They ask me all the time, why can't you heal that for us?" he added. "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.'"
"Do you feel any sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street movement?" Bennet asked later in the discussion.
"No, I feel a lot of sympathy for what you might describe as a general sense among Americans as to whether we've lost the sense of possibility -- and whether after a pretty bad lost decade ... followed by a devastating crisis [and a] 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. And I definitely sympathize with that," he said.
"That's why I think those of us in Washington carry such a huge burden. No, we're not just trying to clean up a huge mess, we have to try to figure out how to do that at the same time we're trying to restore faith in public institutions. That's an essential thing to do, because we're having a terrible debate, a huge debate, an important debate about what is the role of government in the economy and society as a whole. What we need to do is restore some basic confidence so that the government is able to perform those critical functions that the market can't provide."
Earlier in the day at the Ideas Forum, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley also commented on the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying, "I don't know if it's helpful. I wouldn't characterize it that way. Look it: People express their opinions. In the new social network world, they can do it pretty effectively outside the normal way, historically, people have done it. So whether it's helpful to us, or helpful for people to understand in the political system that there are a lot of people out there concerned about the economy -- I know the focus is on Wall Street, but it's a broader discussion that we're having."
During a Joint Economic Committee hearing on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was asked about the protests as well. In response, he said that he "sympathize[s]" with Americans who are discouraged.
"I would just say very generally, I think people are quite unhappy with the state of the economy and what’s happening," he said. "They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they’re dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can’t blame them."
Earlier on the Huffington Post: