Here is a guy, raising kids on his own, who went from a secure job at Treasury (though perhaps not as secure as his previous remit at Goldman Sachs) to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission under conditions that might make George Washington recant his cherry tree confession.
He confronted the Dodd-Frank Act, a piece of legislation that is of biblical size (and cost). Then came along the MF Global collapse, run by his former Goldman colleague (if such exists on Wall Street), Jon Corzine. What to do?
Cautiously, Chairman Gensler recused himself and appointed Commissioner Jill Sommers, a jewel in the federal crown, to take leadership for the CFTC on the MF Global crisis. Notwithstanding, weak cries emerged in isolated congressional circles that he should resign as CFTC chair. There is little to explain for this except, perhaps, that Gary took his job and the agency's reputation too seriously.
Now, an internal review of the connection between Chairman Gensler and Mr. Corzine has found little empathy between the two men (I could refer again to Wall Street comradery, but won't, except that I have). Already, some have criticized him for stepping back from the MF Global mess in the first place. This is a no-win environment.
Congress is paralyzed by anti-American gridlock, while the CFTC has methodically implemented many of the scores of Dodd-Frank regulations nonetheless. Its enforcement staff continues to whack the bad guys, like the $250 million fine against Barclays for fiddling the LIBOR index. Its management has done some major restructuring to address the Dodd-Frank tsunami.
Gary Gensler is a leader, an athlete, and a determined person. Whether one likes him or not - and, on the Hill, judging character is not considered a relevant line of inquiry among colleagues - he is about as good as they get.
I changed my name after assuming the CFTC chair in 1981 to include my new wife's maiden surname. We celebrated our 30th anniversary last year. Let's see what congressional wannabes can make of that, assuming that it can get out of committee, but meanwhile leave the CFTC alone to do its job. Chairmen may not be Supermen but, in this case at least, the business of regulating in taken seriously.
But what is "regulation"? To some, it is a vice holding back financial innovation (fine, if the Government has a few hundred billion dollars to sweep up the resulting mess).
No, regulation simply sets standards, as we do with our kids at home, to make sure that the system works in the long run. I have six kids who have flourished, not because I told them what to do (a useless exercise at best), but because they worked - and succeeded - within a safe framework that took them where they want to be without a single arrest or indictment. Wall Street, a critical link in the chain of American excellence, simply needs to be reminded - like our offspring - that the path to excellence begins with the principle: "first, do no harm."
The CFTC, like most regulators, has no agenda other than assuring fair treatment for all. It is an integral part of the maturation of every financial professional, something that they are not always trained for through in-house programs. But it is essential to the survival of our superb heritage.
So, regulatory nannies are not a drawback to success. They simply point the way to growth with no intervening convictions or scandals. I have never met a regulator, Chairman Gensler included, that wanted (or thought he/she could) design and impose a new industry culture, but just to remind people that they must pursue their ambitions within the confines of decency.
Parents understand this, including parents who are Senators and Congressmen. They should bring to the office some of their home lessons. If so, the attacks during this bizarre political season against regulation would cease and attention would be limited to the rare (and misguided) efforts of freshman regulators to change the system fundamentally. If so, maybe our political leaders could focus on their core job which is to keep America the best nation ever conceived.
Philip McBride Johnson is a former Chairman of the CFTC