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EDITORIAL: Geithner nod mocks the tenet that ‘character counts’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In “The Republic,” Plato shares a tale about the “Ring of Gyges” as a means to catalyze discussion about how men behave when not observed, and he uses this story to throw out the proposition in his “dialog” with Socrates that only fear of punishment prevents people from behaving unjustly.

The details of Timothy Geithner’s stealing from the government would seem to confirm this notion.

Please know when I describe Geithner’s failure to pay his taxes as “theft” I am not making a legal assertion but a moral observation. The facts speak for themselves: He stole from the U.S. Treasury.

Before serving as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York just prior to becoming secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Geithner was an employee of the International Monetary Fund, a lending and financing organization which claims 185 member countries. Although it is based in Washington, D.C. the IRS treats it as a foreign embassy with regard to taxes. Consequently, the IMF does not withhold payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare from its American employees’ paychecks. However, it pays those workers an amount equal to what an American employer would pay on behalf of its workers … and the IMF gives quarterly statements alerting its American employees to their U.S. tax liabilities.

While at the IMF, from 2001-2004, Geithner paid his state and federal taxes but he failed to pay about $34,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes, pocketing the extra cash the IMF had paid him to help him cover this obligation. An IRS audit in 2006 caused him to cough up the overdue taxes for 2003 and 2004, but a 3-year statute of limitations kept the IRS from collecting what was due for 2001 and 2002, and Geithner chose not to do the right thing and pay up even though he was notified of his delinquency for the extra two years.

Simply put, he showed no character.

He finally made good for the remaining balance just days before he was named for the Treasury post — only after the Obama transition team learned about his failure.

Now he heads the very organization which has oversight of the IRS, and he has been appointed to a position which will play a critical role in responding to the economic crisis in our country, even though he has proved himself not worthy of the public’s trust.

Senator Robert Byrd, D.-W.Va., summed it up in a nutshell, “Had [Geithner] not been nominated for treasury secretary, it’s doubtful he would have ever paid those taxes,” and the venerable Democrat voted against Geithner’s nomination.

Yet, for other senators, the character issue did not seem to matter.

Republicans Orrin Hatch (Utah), Judd Gregg (N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) dismissed the tax scandal.

“He’s the type of person you want as your treasury secretary,” Gregg said, “… [T]alented people like Geithner are needed right now.”

Hatch offered, “He’s a very, very competent guy.”

Perhaps the most galling statement came from Graham, who seemed to scold those who opposed Geithner for his moral and legal improprieties, saying, “Now’s not the time to think in small terms.”

In his part of the imagined exchange with Plato, Socrates rejected the notion that no man can resist temptation if he enjoys a cloak of secrecy. Indeed, he condemned those who would give in to such an inducement as being morally bankrupt.

Such moral sense did not stop with Socrates.

My father was a faithful man of God. He taught me to accept instruction from Scripture and he used every opportunity to mold my integrity. He once found a short statement in a magazine that he thought was a pithy reminder that would help me in life, and I keep it in my wallet to this day:

“What is needed most? Today the greatest thing in the world is not money, for big buildings, nor armies of atomic power, but character.

“The world needs men who can be depended upon, who put others before themselves, and who are not afraid to stand up and be counted; those who are able to add something to the uplifting of political life, something to the brotherhood of social life, something to the practical efficiency of spiritual life. Then we shall have done mankind a real service.”

That short statement contains a lot of truth.

Unfortunately, we are not a nation that always values truth.

For too long, America has been held captive by men who ARE characters, when what we have needed is men OF character, and it’s not just a matter for philosophical discussion. History has shown that a crisis does not create character but reveals it. Unfortunately, given our present predicament looking forward, it’s plain to see our country is in trouble.
Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.

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  • Will Hall