The role of Secretary of the Treasury has become increasingly important as the wealth and power of the financial industry has swelled. The Treasury Secretary is one of a president's most important advisers on tax and economic growth policies, on financial industry regulations, and on our financial relations with the rest of the world.
At a time when we face related problems of joblessness, deficits and income and wealth inequality, the Treasury Secretary should bring to a president more than just the perspective gained from working at a global bank, but rather a well-articulated vision of the U.S. and global economy, an understanding of the needs and challenges of workers at a granular level, and the ability to stand up to, not just stand for, the powerful financial interests.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich fits the bill perfectly and uniquely. There is no Labor Secretary in recent memory that also has such a deep understanding of financial markets. In his writings he has often been critical of the president's policies, and that should count as a big plus for a president who successfully integrated former opponents into his first cabinet, and should appreciate the benefits of doing that again.
Reich is also extremely articulate. He can explain economic policy at the level of 6th graders as well at the more high-brow level of economists. The president needs others in the administration, not just himself, to make its case on economic policy to all the audiences. The mistrust the president's base had about the current Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, would never be an issue.
Possibly Reich's greatest asset in this job, however, would be his own use of the pulpit. Every time Treasury Secretary Robert Reich appeared before congressional committees, he would deliver a lesson in vision, in policy, in basic economics, to the American people. Imagine Treasury Secretary Reich on the Sunday morning yapping programs (including the lions' den of FOX) probing beneath the declaratory, unsubstantiated statements that the opponents advance.
And, of course, Reich has his own ace-in-the-hole, i.e., "this is how we did it under the Clinton Administration, and it worked out well." He can also point out where they made mistakes.
Reich has another asset. He frequently appears on the Larry Kudlow program as part of what Kudlow calls his "dynamic duo," where he faces two-against-one policy arguments and acquits himself well, always keeping his cool, but that is not the point: Kudlow, who is very influential among the financial types he hypes, likes Reich. With the prospect of having a Treasury Secretary accustomed to being on his program, and with his genuine regard for Reich, Kudlow is likely to become a reluctant ally in convincing his crowd to temper its opposition.
That is, regardless of what barriers they raise at the outset, Reich can be confirmed without an enormous kerfuffle.
One hopes President Obama will appoint Robert Reich as Treasury Secretary. His experience, expertise and skills match perfectly and uniquely the complex challenges the country, and thus the new Administration faces. Reich can help President Obama achieve greatness.
The president needs him. The country needs him.