Noam Scheiber doesn’t understand why Ben Bernanke doesn’t show a little more savvy:
Having said that, Bernanke needs to understand the political backdrop for his confirmation vote. As yet, he only seems to kinda, sorta get it. Fortunately for him, it turns out there’s something that would give him a lot of bang for his buck politically: Come out strongly in favor of an independent consumer financial protection agency, which the House has already approved and which the White House supports. It seems like a complete no brainer. On the one hand, the Fed, which currently has a lot of authority over consumer protection, appears to have little interest in actually doing the job, if one can judge from the last decade or so. On the other hand, many of the same people who are deeply skeptical of Bernanke and the Fed strongly support an independent consumer agency. Bernanke could, in one fell swoop, get rid of a task the Fed isn’t particularly well-suited to doing (a substantive improvement), while also winning points with a lot of critics (a polticial improvement). And yet, for whatever reason, he still seems to be digging in his heels. It makes no sense. Ben, please, for the love of God, let it go!
I think a lot of apparently mysterious things about Ben Bernanke’s career can be solved if you just assume that Ben Bernanke is doing things that a conservative Republican would do because he is a conservative Republican. For example, remember when conservative Republican George W Bush was president and made Ben Bernanke chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors? And remember when Bush put Ben Bernanke in charge of the Fed? And remember when Ben Bernanke didn’t see the underlying problems in the financial system? But remember how, in a moment of crisis, Bernanke did turn out to believe in forceful government intervention on behalf of financial institutions and asset owners? And that time when, having stabilized asset markets, Bernanke stopped caring about unemployment and wages? And then, of course, there was the time Bernanke opposed the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. As Paul Krugman says Bernanke “is a great economist” and he’s acting just how you would expect a great economist to act, were he a conservative Republican. The only thing that’s weird about this is why Barack Obama, who’s not a conservative Republican, would appoint him to the single most important domestic policy job in the country.
I note that liberals, in their condescension toward conservatives, sometimes wind up tying themselves into knots about guys like Bernanke. Bernanke is very smart and incredibly accomplished. Many smart liberals think conservatives are dumb. So if Bernanke is so smart, it must be that he’s not really a conservative! But no. Smart conservatives are a very real phenomenon. And in politics the general idea is to give positions of authority to well-qualified people who share your political objectives.