Geithner was never greedy or cynical like Rubin. And despite having been a registered Republican, he wasn't a radical right-winger. Geithner believed in a certain level of taxation and stimulus spending, with an economic approach that's far to the right of Republicans like Eisenhower or Nixon but certainly not as extreme as today's Congressional Republicans. He's a lifelong civil servant, one who must have resisted the temptation to make big money in private life many times.
Timothy Geithner was a true believer. He just believed in the wrong things.
Now the question is, What does the President believe? Those beliefs will determine whether his legacy is one of genuine reform, or merely that of a middling civil servant who served as a useful steward for the titans of Wall Street.
While Washington debates the deficit, the big banks are bigger than ever -- and nobody's paying attention. Millions of homes are still underwater, the real estate recovery is still fragile, and reasonable employment levels are still many years away.
Despite his own brief foray on Wall Street, incoming Secretary Jack Lew will take office with less of a pro-bank footprint than Geithner had. If the President's turn toward progressive policies is sincere, he'll need to make that clear to his entire Cabinet. If that happens then Jack Lew, not Tim Geithner, could go down in history as a Treasury Secretary "colossus."
And the President's legacy could become one of growth and prosperity, rather than Wall Street prosperity and Main Street stagnation. Geithner's gone. it's time to get work.