Monday, September 16, 2013

Amid Summers' night mare *groan*

Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers at a meeting with credit card executives, April 23 (Shakespeare's birthday!) 2009. The person to whom the other guys are paying such concentrated attention is President Obama. Via the reaction.
Jim White, one of the faithful correspondents at Emptywheel, knows far more about practically everything that interests him than most anybody you'll ever see on television, to say nothing of lowly me and my Google, but I fell into a disagreement with him in the democracy of the Twitter.

Which got me thinking: What does President Obama think about anything, actually? How do we know?

I want to save the case of Syria for another time.

In the case of Larry Summers, we know, let's say, what the New York Times tells us (or the Washington Post, or The Hill, or Politico, or Godhelpus Drudge*): tonight, Annie Lowrey and Binyamin Appelbaum explain that
In its search for a new Fed chairman, the White House had for months centered on Mr. Summers, who smarted after being passed over for the position when Mr. Obama decided four years ago to name Ben S. Bernanke to a second term as chairman.... many top economic policy officials in the administration considered Mr. Summers, who worked intimately with them during the financial crisis, by far the best candidate.
So it's the corporate entity, "The White House", that is in love with Mr. Summers, not necessarily the presidential person; and Mr. Summers is in love with himself, naturally, and his wounded amour-propre is somehow at issue. "We can't have poor Larry smarting," said The White House, Larry's intimate institutional pal.

This morning's paper (same writers) made it a little more personal:
Mr. Summers wanted the job and Mr. Obama wanted to pick him. But the public opposition of three Democrats on the Senate banking committee, the first step in the confirmation process, surprised the White House and forced a calculation that this was a battle the administration could not afford to fight.
How did Lowrey and Appelbaum know that? They learned it from the Summers point of view via
supporters who insisted on anonymity to describe confidential conversations with him.
"I'm a big supporter of Larry," they said, "but I'm going to repeat to you what he told me in confidence because I just happen to be a treacherous bastard, so please don't mention my name." No, wait. Why is it that reporters trust sources who begin by asking to be kept anonymous because they are breaking a confidence, or because they are not authorized to speak, or because it is a breach of national security? These are not trustworthy people!

*I think that's what I'm going to start calling him, a name for a Puritan pimp, not funny enough for Dickens, but maybe a Walter Scott novel, huh?
The Mare and her Ninefold. By William Lucius Appaloosius Steinmeyer. Via  Elfwood.
Which is not to say they may not be telling the truth, but that a reporter needs to weigh their motivations for speaking. In the present case, it seems clear to me that the sources are speaking not because they have some vicious or vengeful reason for violating the Summers confidence, but because they are framing the story as he wants it framed. Indeed it might as well be Summers himself, and for all we know it is.

This is why the story shows The White House as being so concerned with the Summers emotional state, and why it explains the president's desires in such certain terms. And while I'm not going to go back through the history of Obama's desperate longing to have his buddy Larry running the Fed, I'm feeling pretty confident that you'll find it has been Larry's story all along. What Obama has publicly said, along with lavish praise for Summers's intellect and drive and whatnot, is that he has not made up his mind, and there's really no reason not to think that's true.

And there's a reason to think Obama might be more interested in getting the hiring of a Fed Chairman done quietly and efficiently than he is in soothing Larry's feelings: in Richard Wolffe's new book, The Message: The Reselling of President Obama (as previewed in the Daily Beast), whose sources have good reason to remain anonymous because they are purveying some pretty nasty gossip:

“Axe and Gibbs were effectively fired. He owes everything to Axe. Everything. He’d never have gotten anywhere without him. I’d like to think he knows that and sees him differently. But I’m not sure.” Obama kept a close team of younger male staffers to manage his immediate needs, and that was all he needed. “He needs the guys to play cards and golf, and tell him where he’s going next and why,” said a former aide. “But beyond that, it’s what function you have. And if you can’t fulfill that function anymore, or someone can do it better, you’re gone. That’s hard for those of us who really believe in him. He expects full loyalty. But you need to have your eyes open.”

That is, he maybe preferred to give Summers the job for reasons of loyalty, or because the staff liked him best or was scared of women, or simply because Janet Yellen wasn't into the kind of shameless begging for the job through the press and in person that Summers was conducting (from Lowrey and Appelbaum:
Ms. Yellen has frustrated some of her own supporters by her unwillingness to campaign, or to coordinate their efforts on her behalf.)
but to say that he "wanted" Summers because he childishly thinks Summers is just so awesome the Fed can't do without him, no. He cares a lot more about what the people, as represented (however lamely) by the Senate, want. He'd drop him without a moment's regret. In fact he just has.
1980s Fright Flicks cards, via Mondotees.

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