Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Farewell to the Bald Guy

"The Bald Guy" — that's how my sons refer to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, whom I've been assigned to photograph often over the last 2 1/2 years, first in relative obscurity, then in anything but (see "Page 1" from this past fall).

Economists and politicians will debate whether Mr. Paulson responded appropriately to the economy's sudden unraveling, though he certainly moved quickly and modified his views on the free market in the process. But I can say for certain his range of facial expressions was well-suited to a time of economic crisis.

Yesterday, probably the last time I'll photograph Mr. Paulson as Treasury secretary, he was speaking not about troubled assets and frozen credit but about climate change. That's only the second time I remember hearing a cabinet-level Bush administration official talk on the subject. (The other time the secretary of the interior, Dirk Kempthorne, was discussing the decision to list polar bears as threatened because polar ice is melting - but he insisted there is no causal link between the melting ice and CO2 emissions in the lower 48 states. I found this a little hard to follow.)

So it might seem an odd subject for Time magazine's runner-up as Person of the Year to give a valedictory on. But not for Mr. Paulson - a dedicated birder, his enviro credentials include chairing the board of the Nature Conservancy and leading Goldman Sachs (where he was chairman before moving to Treasury) to take environmental positions that are well ahead of most businesses, and certainly ahead of the administration he's served.

Yesterday Mr. Paulson refused to be drawn into any criticism of the administration's record on climate change, joking he'd made it 2 1/2 years without going off-message and that he was not about to derail with only eight days left. So here's hoping the "Bald Guy" does well in his next gig, hopefully one where he can speak his mind more freely.

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