Neel Kashkari on Stress Eating, Hank Paulson’s Dry Heaves, and the ‘Enduring Headache at the Center of His Brain’

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Photo: Getty Images

When Neel Kashkari was tapped as the Interim Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability, the 35-year-old Goldman Sachs alumnus was thrust under a spotlight so bright and hot that most people would have been reduced to ash. As the face of the $700 billion bailout, he instantly had 300 million enemies. His life was turned upside down, his high-school yearbook photos were published, he was battered to a bloody pulp in front of Congress (figuratively), and, oh yes, he had the economy to save. So it's little wonder that since his term ended, Kashkari has been in the woods of California with his wife, dieting and ridding himself of what he calls the Washington "toxins" by immersing himself in a Kafkaesque task of building a backyard shed, which seems to have little purpose other than to house the memories of his trauma. What is a wonder is his decision to let Washington Post reporter Laura Blumenfeld into his life and basically spill all of his guts to her. As a public-relations move, (Kashkari has said he has political aspirations) this was either the worst idea ever, the most brilliant idea ever, or both.

In this weekend's profile, Kashkari describes in detail the ways in which the TARP job caused him to deteriorate physically and mentally. He talks about the twenty-plus pounds he gained eating Doritos ("I'm a stress eater"); the insane hours (Even his assistant slept with her BlackBerry on her pillow); the betrayal he felt when he was attacked by Congress ("Members of Congress will tell you they agree with you, and then in public they blast you ... I wasn't prepared for their hostility"); his brutal work dreams ("He dreams he's back at Treasury. The Federal Reserve chairman has come to hear Kashkari's important report. A meeting has been called, and everyone's waiting. But Kashkari can't find his report.") and how everyone around him at one point or another fell apart.


During midnight negotiations with congressional leaders, Paulson doubled over with dry heaves. A government economist broke into Kashkari's office sobbing, "Oh my God! The system's collapsing!"

One of them, chief compliance officer Don Hammond, actually had a heart attack.


"He was pale in the ICU. All these tubes in his nose and his arms," Kashkari says, recalling his hospital visit after Hammond's heart attack. As he speaks, Kashkari is gasping, doing lat pull-downs at the gym. "He was tilted up in bed. He asked about my upcoming House testimony. He said, 'I'll be checking my BlackBerry, if you need anything.'"

It's a pretty terrifying story, not just because it drives home the fact that there are no real adults, that the people in charge of the big important stuff are only humans like the rest of us — as much as they would like us to believe differently — and like any of us, under pressure they are utterly susceptible to losing their minds. But what's really scary is that so far, Kashkari is the only person who's actually admitted it.

The $700 billion man [WP]