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1. First, Let’s Bring the Whimsy
I fell in love with the official government photo of Neel Kashkari when I first saw it, before he had even moved to a rural California home near Lake Tahoe, which was in turn before he moved to Laguna Beach. I couldn’t recall ever seeing one quite like it.
What I fell is love was was his expression. Wide-open, piercing eyes and a narrow mouth that was neither quite smiling nor precisely solemn — one that combined aspects of brashness, contempt, and perhaps cluelessness about what impression his expression conveyed. (I half-expect that his was the photo that the great Danny Pudi — “Abed” on Community — was looking at when he developed his Aspy’s character’s facial look.)
I fell in love with it because this was his official government photo. It’s not like it was some candid shot; they would have let him taken another one had he asked. No, this was the image that he wanted to convey to the public at a time of financial crisis — to me, it was an image that conveyed “I am the scientists and you are the bugs.”
I loved it because this is simply not what a government official is supposed to do. Just look at official government photos sometimes and you’ll see: they’re generally either smiling, solemn, or uncomfortable — and yet he either didn’t know he was adding a new genre to the list or he didn’t care. It’s not like he had to look that way — see the recent photo of him at right — it was his choice.
There’s a saying that a person gets the face he or she deserves by age 40. Kashkari just turned 40 last July; he was around 35 when his photo was taken. I think that he already had the face that he deserved.
(There’s a reasonable chance, by the way, based on his arrival at the University of Illinois in 1991, that he was a student in my Introduction to Political Science, held in the campus theater/auditorium. That class usually had about 800 people, though, so I can’t remember all of their names. If he was among them: “hi, Neel, and congratulations on getting into Wharton!”)
As for the headline “Neel Before Zod” — I think that it would be a great campaign slogan for Kashkari in June, but it depends on getting people to start referring to Vern’s buddy Tim Donnelly as “Zod.” I’m willing to do my part. He’s Orange County’s own candidate for the de facto Republican nomination for Governor, now, so we have to help out where we can. Let’s get to know Neel, shall we?
2. “The $700 Billion Man”
Kashkari came to Washington as a Special Assistant to Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson about half a year before the subprime mortgage crisis really started eating into public consciousness. He was the wunderkind who was supposed to figure out what to do to cushion the eventual blow — such as, for example, tying Countrywide Financial around the neck of Bank of America so that it would eventually collapse and be sold to NationsBank. He helped devise TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, about which more below.
When the economy finally collapsed in September 2008, he was been appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability — essentially the “PLEASE SAVE US” guy. He survived in that job for about a half-year, a little more than three months into the Obama Administration, before reportedly burning out and fleeing to California. One can hardly blame him for either.
In March 2008 Kashkari began to worry that, if the Bush administration never received the authority it needed to deal with the growing crisis, the next administration would blame them for everything wrong in the economy. Paulson scoffed at this idea, particularly Kashkari’s speculation that Barack Obama, then a candidate in that year’s presidential election, would win the presidency and use the crisis to ride to popularity just as former President Ronald Reagan had following the Iran hostage crisis.
In early 2008, Paulson directed Kashari and fellow Treasury aide Phillip Swagel to write a plan to recapitalize the banking system in case the crisis worsened. Following the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) was enacted on October 3. Kashkari was one of several Paulson aides who was heavily involved in the crafting the legislation. Based in large part on Kashkari and Swagel’s recapitalization plan, the act created created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a $700 billion bailout fund for financial institutions threatened with collapse. Kashkari favored getting distressed assets away from the banks the most among Treasury staff. He initially proposed a $1 trillion fund, but Paulson vetoed that number as too large. Kashkari came up with the lesser figure of $700 billion by taking 5% of the $14 trillion in then-outstanding mortgages in the United States.
To administer TARP, the EESA created within the Treasury Department a new Office of Financial Stability to be headed by an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. However, it also specified that the Treasury Secretary could designate an interim Assistant Secretary to run the office. Kashkari first came to widespread public attention on October 6, when Paulson named him to this position, earning Kashkari the nicknames “bailout czar” and “the $700 billion man”. During his time running TARP he retained his title as Assistant Secretary for International Economics and Development, but his international affairs responsibilities were delegated to another Treasury official.
The program underwent some change after its creation. On Oct. 13, Kashkari announced in a speech that TARP would not only purchase distressed mortgage assets from banks, as had been announced already, but would also purchase stock in the banks themselves. Noticing a lack of necessary expertise in investment within Treasury, Kashkari recruited new staff for the program, some from government and others from industry, ultimately hiring about 100 people by January 2009. Kashkari also chaired the five-member investment committee within Treasury that decided which banks would receive TARP money. …
Kashkari later said that Bush not running for reelection allowed the government to “do things that were deeply unpopular but we knew were the right thing.”
All in all, one could hardly imagine a better representative of the Orange County Republican philosophy of governance, unless one tried.
3. So What Does This Mean for Us? Will It Be Fun?
Oh yes, it will be fun! This means that we’re setting up a three-way jungle primary fight between Jerry Brown (who will be trying to get more than 50% of the vote so as to squash all hope among the Republicans, although he’ll win even if he doesn’t), the moderate hope Kashkari, and the radical right Minutemen founder Tim Donnelly. This will have several impacts.
First — and this is good for Republicans — a fight between a moderate moderate and a fire-chomping caveman (with a good sense of humor) is going to shove Republican turnout in June to very high levels. On the one hand, this means that Republicans will tend to do better than we might expect in the decisive supervisorial and countywide executive elections, where 50% + 1 of the vote means that the election for November gets canceled. The bill for that will come due in November, though, when the results from the June primarily will be roundly (and rightly) discounted. In other words if Young Kim beats Sharon Quirk-Silva in June, it will tell us little about whether that will happen when it counts, in November, much as Chris Norby’s trouncing Quirk-Silva in the Fullerton Recall-fueled 2012 primary ultimately meant nothing for the general election.
Bad for Republicans: ENMITY! Big, stinking, divisive enmity within Republican ranks — people who are supposed to be working together for the entire year. Yes, Democrats will face this too — already the John Perez vs. Betty Yee “primary within a primary” for State Controlled is curdling my milk — but not nearly as much, because Governor is the sole headliner this year.
Orange County is in for an especially interesting time because (1) there are soooo many Republicans here, Kashkari now included, (2) this is one of the most concentrated areas of Tim Donnelly-style woo-hoo Tea Party populism, and (3) this is also the home of corporate/financial sector conservatism — think Newport Beach and Irvine.
So, because this is the blog of record (more or less) in Kashkari’s home county, Vern and I are going to own the story. Get used to those big unblinking eyes. You’re going to be seeing a lot of them.
UPDATE, JAN. 23: ZOD STRIKES BACK!
(I’m posting Tim Donnelly’s press release without the fundraising pitches. Go find them yourself if you must.)
Try and guess the political affiliation of the following individual. Here are a few hints:
In 2008, he voted for Barak Obama. Less than a year later, he worked for the Obama Administration as head of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to oversee the government bank bailout. He is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and admitted to the media that he couldn’t name one single Republican in the California legislature that he would work with if elected Governor.
While this may sound a lot like Gov. Jerry Brown himself, who I’m describing is actually not a Democrat. This is Neel Kashkari, who yesterday announced his intention to also run for Governor of California — as a Republican.
We don’t need more of the same in Sacramento. Whether under the title of “Democrat” or “Republican”, what’s happening in California simply isn’t working — and now we’re at a tipping point.
With your support, we can stop this RINO in his tracks. …
I speak with dozen of folks on a daily basis on both sides of the aisle and they tell me:
“Tim, if you don’t win and bring real change to California, we’re going to have to leave.”
Thousands have already fled our once-great state, seeking refuge in other states more friendly to businesses and families.
As you know, we recently cleared the political field in order to mount our serious challenge to Gov. Brow this year. I’m asking if you’ll provide the momentum we need to clear the field once again.
It is imperative that we take our pro-liberty message all the way to the Capitol in November.
P.S. Californians are looking for a candidate who will represent them, not someone who supports Barak Obama and mirrors Gov. Brown’s failed policies. Our message of making California golden once again is resonating, but I need momentum to clear the field.
NEEL KASHKARI –ARE YOU GONNA PUT UP WITH THIS? YOU’RE WELCOME TO SEND YOUR PRESS RELEASE (OR EVEN PERSONAL REFUTATION) TO ORANGE JUICE BLOG. JUST PUT IT INTO A COMMENT ALONG WITH YOUR CAMPAIGN E-MAIL ADDRESS; ONCE WE VERIFY IT WITH YOUR POFFICE, WE’LL POST IT. I’M HERE TO HELP YOU SPREAD YOUR MESSAGE, NEEL, JUST LIKE VERN IS HERE TO DO THAT FOR TIN CONNELLY. (GOV. BROWN HAS HIS OWN PEOPLE FOR THAT.)
BY THE WAY, TOM DOLLANY, IT’S SPELLED “BARACK” OBAMA, NOT “BARAK,” AND IT’S GOV. “BROWN” NOT “BROW.” I’LL BET THAT NEEL KASHKARI KNOWS HOW TO SPELL! RIGHT, NEEL? NEEL?