Adios, Jared Bernstein: Obama Brain Trust Almost Purged


Alone, unknown, unloved goes Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's economic advisor. Bernstein, a central figure in the Obama economic team, left direct government employment yesterday to assume a senior fellowship at a think tank. 

History little noted nor long remembered the undistinguished Bernstein's undistinguished tenure: 

Speaking at a 2009 University of Delaware conference, Bernstein described his ambition to create a "virtuous cycle" in defiance of the "great recession." In the absence of fiscal stimulus, Bernstein said, "the recession could have morphed into a depression." (What morphing, a term popularized in digital movie effects, meant in this context went unexplained.) 

Dutifully pitching in with Ryan Lizza's attempt to puff Larry Summers that same year in El Neoyorquino, Bernstein (listed in the story as one of the team who attended a "half-hour meeting each morning" with the president) gushed without enthusiasm: "Wow, it's all too rare that you see the thinking of such a prominent economist move like that." 

In a crudely edited video from this year's Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference, Bernstein can be heard declaring "Government has an important role to play in fostering innovation" and claiming the Obama Administration is trying to implement "a clean energy future with American workers and businesses leading the way." 

Bernstein was generally described as part of the pro-stimulus wing of the Obama economic team. The Hill calls him "Stimulus point man." 

The now-notorious group shot that accompanied Lizza's glowing profile of the Obama economic team has, like the profile itself, been rendered bitterly ironic by the passage of time and the gradual shutting down of the American economy. It's been fun to X out, in turn, Peter Orszag, Christina Romer, Summers and Bernstein, and there is grandeur in seeing the scale of the great deleveraging overwhelm these puny economists with their macro malarkey. 

Only Romer in some way approaches tragic terror and pity. Orszag has smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into his money or his vast carelessness. The unreflective Summers knows no world beyond confidence in his own genius. Bernstein – who cares? But Romer, as I described here, spent her White House tenure running away from solid early-career achievements and denying that her writings meant what they clearly meant. Having used up her credibility she is reduced to weak-tea defenses of administration policy, which like all defenses of administration economic policy, are asserted rather than demonstrated. 

You will note that the biggest fish is still out there. I have had no kind words for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner since long before he joined the Obama brain trust, but at this point I'm like Biff Loman: There's no spite in it anymore. I just want to know when Geithner will be fired. President Obama is understandably leery of firing department heads prior to an uphill reelection campaign, but George W. Bush fired his treasury secretary prior to winning reelection, and Bush, Reagan and Clinton each went through three secretaries of the treasury during two-term presidencies. Why is Geithner still in office?