Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says that dealing with the nation’s financial crisis was like boiling in oil for a year.
That is just one of the pungent observations Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, shared with Vanity Fair national editor Todd Purdum between November 2007 to January 2009. The information in the interviews was embargoed until Paulson left office. It appears in the October edition of the magazine.
Paulson, who was confirmed as President George W. Bush’s third Treasury Secretary in June 2006, ended up presiding over the greatest disruption in the world economy in 80 years.
Fear, the unspoken word
In the interviews, Paulson talked bluntly about the atmospherics of the time. “I always talk publicly about ‘extreme risk aversity’ or something. Treasury Secretaries don’t use ‘fear.’ But there was this this – you know – there was fear, OK?” Paulson said.
While the former Treasury Secretary rails about some members of Congress being two faced, he sings the praises of two key Democrats.
Here is how Paulson refers to Barney Frank, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “This is a guy that’s got the intellect, he’s got the energy, he cares, and he wants to legislate, knows how to legislate. He’s interested in getting across the finish line. Now, I just wish he were a Republican, and we all shared the same policy principles, and you’d cut a wide swath!”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also came in for praise for her help passing an emergency stimulus bill in early 2008. “Pelosi to me was a wonder in this deal, and she was available 24-7, anytime I called her on the cell phone. She was engaged, she was decisive, and she was really willing to just get involved with all of her people on a hands-on basis,” Paulson said.
No easy choices
Paulson left offices with a keen sense of how difficult it is to make progress in Washington. “I see nothing easy in Washington. I see either analytically simple things that are politically complex, or those that are politically complex and analytically complex. I mean, look at immigration reform, you know? It is, I think, analytically easy, but politically very, very complex and very difficult,” he said.
Although Paulson’s confirmation process was relatively speedy, he still entertained second thoughts about accepting the Treasury post. “There were a couple of times during the process — where there were no serious hiccups, just people asking questions about this matter or that, you know — if I could have had a do-over, I would have gone right back to CEO of Goldman Sachs,” he said.
Paulson’s book about his experiences as Treasury secretary, “On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System,” is due out in September.
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