Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to get reappointed at 9 o'clock this morning. In honoring the man who in 2006 was still talking about solid fundamentals and a soft landing in the real estate market, and who predicted growth in the second half of 2007, President Obama will express gratitude on behalf of all the peoples of Planet Earth, with special praise for Bernanke's leadership "through one of the worst financial crises that this nation and this world have ever faced."
Got it? Not just this nation but this world. Self-dramatization buffs take note: This recession dwarfs not only the Panic of 1837 and the Great Depression, but the South Sea Bubble, Egypt's seven-year famine in the Book of Genesis, and whatever killed the Mayans. We're all heroes, just for being here, dammit!
The great missed opportunity is not economic (given that Larry Summers was in serious contention as a Bernanke replacement, the move may in fact be a blessing), but political. In the wake of the health care debacle, Americans are feeling the kind of misgivings not felt since Britney Spears woke up to Jason Alexander. Obama has demonstrated his fondness for announcing grand schemes in a golden cloud of "understand one things" and "let there be no doubts," but he has provided no evidence that he has an interest in the nuts-and-bolts job of keeping his customers satisfied. This is the moment for the president to give up the illusion of vision and start creating the illusion of results.
My advice: After the vacation that should have been in Hawaii, come back and fire Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Then announce that Bernanke will not be reappointed. Then announce that you've called together an international team of ninja economists and financial titans—I mean stellar people, blue ribbon right down to their white shoes—to craft a better, smarter Stimulus II (actually Stimulus IV or V, but who's counting?). Then spend the fall doing photo-opps with small business owners and chambers of commerce around the country, vowing to get this economy moving again—for real American working families and such.
Nobody will be fooled, any more than anybody outside the Beltway is fooled by the "signs of life" and "green shoots" flapdoodle the Administration and its stooges keep ladling out. But they'll appreciate the gesture. And with luck we may see just one more big money dump rather than the methodical destruction of the federal budget.
Most people recognize that the economy is out of the president's control. They just don't like seeing Washington and Wall Street use this supposed disaster as an excuse to loot and pillage. This is a bigger political problem than Obama seems to understand.