Paul Greenberg

If personnel is policy, and it is, then Barack Obama's first major appointment to his Cabinet heartens.

Gone are the empty slogans -- Hope! Change! Audacity! Whatever! The campaign is over and the president-elect now begins to compensate for his lack of experience with appointees who have a world of it.

There will surely be outbursts of sloganspeak in this next administration; our new president will need to give his more fervent fans some fodder. But ideology begins to take a back seat to reality. Which is all to the good. Because the obdurate realities of the world will not be affected by fine-spun words but by bold actions.

In choosing Timothy Geithner as his secretary of the Treasury and his point man on the economy in general, Barack Obama has chosen the most action-oriented member of the Bush administration's financial team. As president of the influential Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Mr. Geithner consistently prodded the administration to act boldly, decisively and early.

From the beginning of the Panic of '08, Mr. Geithner was calling for more active interventions in the markets, and often enough carrying them out. He isn't likely to be one of your figurehead secretaries of the Treasury. He leads. And manages.

Timothy Geithner's specialty throughout his career with Treasury has been fixing economic crises on a nationwide scale. Wherever there was a fiscal meltdown in the 1990s -- Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea -- he was likely to be found there, like a fire brigade rushing to a conflagration.

In all those cases, he recognized that help from the rest of the world was the first, urgent need if the financial meltdown of those countries was to be contained. First the flames had to be drenched by infusions of credit before their fast-collapsing economies could recover. As they did.

When the same kind of panic struck American markets, and the financial structure of the American economy began to unravel, he urged the same kind of rapid response. Young in years (47), he's had a lifetime of experience in battling panics.

When word came Friday that Mr. Geithner would be the country's next secretary of the Treasury, he got an immediate 500-point vote of confidence from the Dow, which continued its advance as the next week began.

Mr. Geithner seems the embodiment of what Franklin Roosevelt, in the early stages of a far greater economic crisis, called the need for "bold, persistent experimentation." The only thing consistent about this incoming administration's economic policy may turn out to be its willingness to experiment.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.