Larry Summers: Plus-sized Richelieu in the Court of the (Economic) Sunset King


Skip through the foray into complete fiction in this New York Times profile of President Obama's economic team ("With [an array of economic rescue plans], and the Fed's efforts, the economy shows signs of new life"), and you'll get a pretty good view of the deep, deep loathing chief economic advisor Larry Summers inspires in pretty much everybody. The closest Summers' intimates can come to a kind word is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's praise that Summers is "pretty good at making the case against anything."

Given that the ideas in play here begin at bad and continue through abysmal, that's probably not a bad trait. (In a piece of good news for rich incompetents everywhere, Geithner and the "populist" Summers agree that companies on the public tit should not be subject to executive pay restrictions.) But what really comes across is Summers' talent for ham-handed palace intrigue, as in this anecdote about the Chrysler debate:

[Austan] Goolsbee argued that rescuing the financial system was one thing, since credit is the economy's lifeblood, but the government should not run an auto company. Saving Chrysler, he added, could further harm General Motors, which stood to gain market share.

The arguments became so heated that Mr. Summers stormed from one meeting, a witness said. While he later included Mr. Goolsbee's objections in a memorandum for Mr. Obama, he excluded Mr. Goolsbee from the decisive meeting with the president.

There, [Christina D.] Romer expressed the objections from the Council of Economic Advisers, but made a point of naming the absent Mr. Goolsbee. That prompted Mr. Obama to ask, "Where is Austan?" He had the aide summoned to state his case, in what some aides took as a rebuke to Mr. Summers. The discussion continued that evening, and Mr. Obama decided on the course Mr. Summers supported.

When I had to edit Summers' very expensive and never-readable op-eds at the L.A. Times, I never got a chance to experience full-frontal Larry, as every change had to be begged through his own Waylon Smithers figure: assistant Michael O'Mary, who is pictured above basking in The Presence. I found O'Mary insufferable, and I regret that my effort to fit in with the MSM kept me from responding to his petulant messages with the "Settle down, Mary" they deserved. But this makes me think maybe the amanuensis was just reflecting the greater insufferability of the boss. In any case, Summers is still in the game to become the next treasurer or Fed chairman, so we may all get another direct whiff of the great man, if only through the smoke signals that will be the only means of communications left once the Obama geniuses are through with the American economy.