Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Paulson was always underestimated by his rivals and colleagues. He was a forceful advocate, an excellent salesman and a physically imposing presence. People dismissed him as "not so smart," which he has proven to be remarkably false. They confused his midwestern style and his inability to make a speech as a lack of intellect. Sound familiar? He was a Chicago outsider in a New York business.
Hank Paulson was notoriously inarticulate, and happy to make light of his own public speechmaking. But what was great about him was his transparency, his candor, his willingness to be held to account and his forcefulness in holding others to account. He is a powerful guy, a powerful personality. He will be no shrinking violet. He may make the occasional public speaking gaffe. He has gotten better at all of those things as the length of his tenure as CEO of Goldman Sachs has forced him to improve on these public skills. But it's hard to believe that he won't rival Bush for the occasional malapropism.
On policy matters, he will line up very well with the President. He will almost certainly talk up the dollar, rather than talk it down. He is intimately familiar with China, as he has been a frequent traveller there for business and I bet his Treasury posting bodes well for our interactions with the Chinese. Because Bob Rubin was viewed as a Clinton Administration genius, Bush may benefit from some of the glow Rubin left on the Treasury, since Paulson and Rubin share their Goldman pedigree. But there could not be two more different people, really, that come from the same place, than Paulson and Rubin. Paulson will be a tax cutter, a dollar proponent, a free trade proponent -- all in all, I would say a very strong selection for the Treasury position. He is also a warrior. By that I mean that under adversity, he is incredibly strong. He ascended to the role of COO at Goldman at its worst moment (1994). He then became CEO at a moment of great peril and change (1999 - when the Long Term Capital Crisis and the Russian financial crisis temporarily derailed Goldman's IPO). One other thing - Paulson is a noted environmentalist. He is Chairman of the Nature Conservancy, and an avid photographer of wildlife, especially birds. His position on Arctic Wildlife Drilling will be interesting to see emerge, though only tangentially related to his day job.
One bit of bad news for the Princeton folks who read here - he is a Dartmouth graduate.