Timothy Geithner, Political Strategist

The TARP bank bailout program polls poorly. Fifty-eight percent of Americans think the bailouts were unnecessary. Timothy Geithner, in recent remarks, subtly reminded voters that the hated bailouts were originally a Republican proposal. It began with George W. Bush, remember.

This is a clever bit of strategy from Geithner. President Obama and congressional Democrats get most of the blame for TARP. And they deserve plenty of blame for not repealing the program. But Geithner is right. TARP began with Republicans.

The midterm elections will probably be very kind to Republicans. Geithner is saying, in effect, “be careful what you wish for.”

He’s right. If the GOP does regain control of Congress, little good is likely to come of it. They will probably do a decent job opposing the White House’s proposals. That could slow spending growth.

But what the country needs are spending cuts. And Republicans have serially proven they can’t be trusted with the public purse.

When Republicans last held power they passed the largest new entitlement program since the Great Society, nearly doubled federal spending in eight years, gave billions of dollars in subsidies to businesses and farmers, and generally made a mess of things. The TARP bailouts and the largest spending stimulus in U.S. history were their closing flourishes.

Republicans  did all the things they ran against in 1994. Many GOP candidates are saying similar things in 2010. But remember Geithner’s counsel about TARP. Only a fool would believe that Republicans will actually cut spending. Beltway fever catches quickly. And it’s contagious.

Of course, Democrats are just as bad. As I say with every election involving Democrats and Republicans, whoever wins, we lose. The best that independents can do is nudge the intellectual climate in a better direction. Geithner has kindly reminded us that we need to redouble our efforts on conservatives and progressives alike.