A long time ago, after an incident that had left me particularly furious with a disagreeable colleague, a friend told me to be patient eventually this person would fall on his own petard. After all, it wasn’t the short term paybacks that one needs to worry about, its the long term paybacks that get them in the end. And so it was, some years later, my nemesis got too arrogant, made some foolhardy decisions and was forced to retire in disgrace. I had long since moved on another path that was ultimately more satisfying but when I heard the story of his fall I had to wryly smile.
Over the weekend, after some weeks of speculation about who would succeed Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve, President Barack Obama’s rumored favorite, his former chief economics adviser, Larry Summers, withdrew his name from consideration. Mr. Summers had come under fire from the progressive left for his Chicago School economic policies and his past history as President Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary. It was during Summer tenure as Treasury head that Glass-Steagal was repealed leading to the current economic mess. Add to that his misogynistic attitude and the rise of one of the women to whom he was so dismissive and you have the recipe for the down fall of one of the most “dickish” (Charlie Pierce’s term) personalities in government.
Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post Ryan Grim summarized Larry’s fall from grace:
A progressive-populist coalition fueled by women’s groups and high-end donors was responsible for undoing President Barack Obama’s bid to install Larry Summers as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve. [..]
The five opposing senators were a combination of traditional progressives — Merkley, Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) — and prairie populists — Jon Tester (Mont.) and, according to three Senate Democratic sources, Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.). Tester’s opposition was reported Friday by Reuters; Heitkamp’s intention was not previously public. [..]
Meanwhile, a coalition of progressive groups — which included UltraViolet and the National Organization for Women, two powerful women’s groups — teamed with the big donors and grassroots advocacy groups to pressure Banking Committee members and other Senate Democrats. ..] The donors, who were mostly women, had [concerns that ranged from populist to feminist. [..]
Merkley, according to another aide, spoke to Democratic senators on the committee during caucus meetings on Tuesday and Thursday, and made Summers’ closeness to Wall Street and prior support for deregulation the key element of his pitch. He homed in on Summers’ backing for the Glass-Steagall repeal, which allowed banks to grow much larger and take on more risk. He also highlighted Summers’ opposition to regulating derivatives in a battle with then-Commodity Futures Trading Commission head Brooksley Born. Summers took both positions as treasury secretary during the Clinton administration. To make the point that Summers had not revised his approach, Merkley noted his intense behind-the-scenes opposition to the Volcker Rule, an attempt to reinstate some of Glass-Steagall’s restrictions that was added to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law by Merkley and Brown. [..]
Summers had also opposed naming Warren to permanently head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a decision that came back to haunt him, as Warren instead ran for the Senate and won a spot on the Banking Committee, where she has now helped tank Summers’ shot at the Fed chairmanship.
Essentially, Larry Summers was the author of his own demise. As Charlie Pierce observes:
The fact is that Senator Professor Warren was one of the driving forces behind a genuine populist uprising of liberal Democratic senators — and Jon Tester, too — and that uprising has kicked Larry Summers to the curb. She has quietly carved out a leadership role in the one area in which she is an acknowledged expert. (What she will do if it ever comes to a vote on making war in Syria is anybody’s guess.) Quite simply, she is doing what she said she would do when she was running for the Senate. She has enough allies to get done a lot of what she wants to get done. Anything this president — or his successor — wants to do as far as national economic policy now has to go through her, and through the coalition to which she belongs. I still don’t think the president will nominate Janet Yellin — He’s got his back up about it now — but whoever he does nominate is going to have to have a chat with the nice professor in the glasses who’s got just a few questions she’d like to ask.
I’m sure there are a lot of women, from Brooksley Born to Christina Romer, wryly smiling. Long term paybacks can be very satisfying.