Unnamed Republican insiders are said to be hoping that an A-list CEO, preferably from Wall Street, will be willing to take the job. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal tagged Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson as a potential Snow successor. The Financial Times has noted interest in Morgan Stanley's John Mack and here, in Richard Parsons of Time Warner. Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch is occasionally mentioned in such conversations.The problem is that one of the qualifications for a cabinet position is the Bush administration is a total lack of self respect. The Treasury Secretary is not to make policy but only spin the Bush party line.
For those who thought Bolten's appointment would signal more realism in the West Wing, this fanciful list will come as a bitter disappointment. After all, the characteristics of a successful Bush Cabinet secretary and those of successful Wall Street CEOs appear to be mutually exclusive.
The probability of Bush being able to draft any of these guys—virtually all of whom have signaled their disinterest—is incredibly low. Why? For starters, it's a great time to be the CEO of a Wall Street firm. The regulatory and legal nightmares of the 2001-2003 period are history, and so is the bear market. Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and their peers are making money hand over fist. (Here's a one-year chart of several investment banks, compared with the S&P 500.)
The Bush presidency is hobbling to the finish line. Republicans may lose control of the House or Senate this fall. In the 1980s and 1990s, when Wall Street types like Donald Regan, Nicholas Brady, and Robert Rubin eagerly served, the Treasury secretary had a great deal of policy power. By contrast, the Bush theory of Cabinet government is that secretaries take dictation from the White House. Snow has survived as long as he has largely because of his willingness to stifle any thoughts that stray beyond the confines of White House talking points. Ryan Lizza convincingly argues in the New Republic that a superhuman capacity for enduring humiliation is necessary to survive in Bushworld. As a class, Wall Street CEOs have virtually no capacity for enduring the slightest whiff of anything that could possibly be perceived as disrespect.Snow's problem is he has been unable to sell a line of BS that no body could sell.
The dissatisfaction with Snow stems from the fact that he doesn't seem to convince enough Americans that it's raining when they're getting pissed on. Sure, the headline figures on gross domestic product, inflation, and the unemployment rate look fine. But median income hasn't budged in several years, and the tax cuts aren't trickling down. The richest of the rich are getting richer. As David Cay Johnston reported yesterday in the New York Times, "more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers." The Federal Reserve Consumer Finance Survey found that between 2001 and 2004, the top 1 percent increased their share of the country's net worth, from 32.7 percent to 33.4 percent. As people who rely on wage income are subject to the slow-motion wage and benefits cram down, Snow—and the Bush administration—have had nothing to offer except health savings accounts, income inequality, and capital gains tax cuts.So Snow is taking hits for not being able to sell the idea that happy days are here again. That job is not unlike trying to sell flood damaged cars from New Orleans. So John Snow can't do what they want him to do but it's a job that no body could do and in fact no one else even wants to try so Snow probably has a job for awhile.