FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair tops the Wall Street Journal's list of "The 50 Women To Watch 2008", which attempts to line up the top 50 women in corporate America today. Despite being the lone government employee on the list, Bair tops it not just because of her work in finance as the chair of the FDIC but because, more importantly, her name is bandied about as a black horse candidate for Treasury Secretary in an Obama Administration. So what should you know about her?Bair might have learned about politics at the feet of her political mentor and former boss, former Republican Presidential candidate and Senator from Kansas, Bob Dole, but she certainly doesn't sound like any hard-hearted partisan hack:
"This myth of all these people making sophisticated calculations and trying to game the system, that wasn't it," Ms. Bair says of the event [on avoiding foreclosure] hosted by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "These were just regular people, working families trying to hold onto their homes. They were scared and I saw a lot of fear on their faces, and I think that struck me more than anything."
Bair, unlike many a mortgage-holder and deregulation apologist, doesn't see an upside to putting more mortgagees on the street and boarding up more homes — a key part of Obama's recovery plan which calls for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, if you've been paying attention. Her willingness to consider what Obama likes to call a "Main Street bailout" focusing on distressed homeowners has gotten her in a little bit of hot water with the Administration that appointed her. While Camden Fine, the president and chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America, says of her, "She very likely will be the only agency head to come out of this crisis with an enhanced reputation," and Democratic Congressman and House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank says, "She's shown you can be concerned about consumers and not skimp on your job as a regulator," she has fewer fans down by the White House. Bair's plan to use the resources of the FDIC to help homeowners has come under fire and is being re-written by White House aides, who are also resisting calls by Frank and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to put Bair officially in charge of managing the foreclosure crisis. At the end of the day, too, she resists placing blame solely on homeowners or individuals that bit off more than they might have been able to chew:
Ms. Bair is optimistic that the U.S. will emerge from the current morass stronger than it was just a few years ago. Institutions and consumers were overleveraged, she says, and the current crisis should usher in a new era of "wise and prudent consumption" and a focus on the "basic notion of thrift." "Getting back to basics, saving before you buy, thinking through expenditures, and not getting too deep into debt," Ms. Bair says. "We need to get back in touch with those cultural values."
Well, I mean, people were calling Obama un-American before the election. A Treasury Secretary that thinks saving and spending prudently is important is nearly as un-American as it gets (but in a good way). Sheila Bair Tops The List [Wall Street Journal] The 50 Women To Watch 2008 [Wall Street Journal]