BLOG VIEW: Over the past few weeks, the political media has been speculating endlessly over which person will be chosen to be Mitt Romney's running mate on the Republican ticket. All of the speculation has been focused on career politicians, most notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
However, these choices represent lose-lose opportunities. Romney winds up with a running mate who is either too inexperienced to assume the responsibilities of president during an emergency (Rubio), too polarizing to attract independent and Reagan Democrat voters (Ryan) or too bland to make any impression, let alone attract voters (Portman).
At the risk of being mischievous, I would like to offer Romney a very different choice as a potential running mate: Sheila Bair, former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC). In many ways, having Bair on the ticket would erase many of the problems facing the Romney campaign.
Although I cannot claim to be among Bair's admirers, I have to acknowledge that she is one of the very few federal regulators to achieve something of a rock star status. Even those who dwell left of the center have gone out of their way to praise her FDIC work.
In March 2009, Bair received the Profile in Courage award from the Kennedy Library Foundation for her ‘political courage [in]â�¦sounding early warnings about conditions that contributed to the current global financial crisis.’ In June 2009, she was the subject of a lengthy profile in The New Yorker, titled ‘The Contrarian,’ which presented Bair as the Cassandra who vainly warned the Bush administration of the coming economic crash. That article was excerpted numerous times in subsequent media coverage of Bair.
Furthermore, the authors of the Dodd-Frank Act recognized Bair's stellar value. Former Sen. Chris Dodd reportedly tried to convince her to take the reins of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, while Rep. Barney Frank blamed Washington's alleged climate of sexism in forcing Bair out of the FDIC, adding that he regretted her departure.
With Bair on the Republican ticket, Romney would not have to worry about having a running mate who would be the source of self-inflicted disasters or negative media coverage. Bair is also an effective speaker, and her eloquence would balance Romney's chronic inability to communicate in a forceful manner.
Even better, Bair could present herself as an expert in dealing with financial regulatory issues – particularly housing finance, which has bedeviled Romney throughout his campaign. (Yes, we're still waiting for Romney to spell out exactly what his plans are regarding this subject.) In an election that is heavily focused on the state of the economy, having someone of Bair's reputation on Romney's team would reinforce his domestic policy message.
Plus, Bair has a track record of securing bipartisan cooperation – a rare talent in today's Washington. Her latest endeavor is something called the Systemic Risk Council, which consists of former government officials from both sides of the aisle – including former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and former Sens. Bill Bradley and Alan K. Simpson – along with private-sector leaders such as John S. Reed, former head of Citicorp, and Hugh F. Johnston, chief financial officer of Pepsico.
Is there a downside to having Bair on Romney's ticket? Well, for starters, Bair openly acknowledged her lack of influence on the federal power brokers, especially in the period when the bailout strategies were being formulated. Being prescient about an approaching disaster is one thing, but having the skill to make your opinions respected is another matter.
And, of course, there is the slight problem of having the largest number of bank failures since the Great Depression occurring while Bair was at the FDIC steering wheel. Oddly, she has never once admitted that she might have played any part – even an itty-bitty role – in this debacle.
However, no one in the media or in the Washington establishment has held Bair to task for her failings. Yes, members of the mortgage banking industry have spoken out about the quality of her work – but, then again, when was the last time that the media or the Washington establishment actually listened to the mortgage banking industry?
For her part, Bair has never publicly stated that she wants to run for elected office. And I have a sneaky suspicion that Romney is too vain to have a running mate who is perceived as being more intelligent and charismatic than he is. Still, it might be fun to get Bair in the mix – if only to add a sense of the unexpected to an otherwise quotidian charade.
– Phil Hall, editor, MortgageOrb
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(Photo courtesy of C-Span.)