In our fragmented, minute-by-minute universe, we get to thinking of the president the United States, a certain George Bush, as the man who blew the Big Blow rescue operation in New Orleans, nominated a crony to the Supreme Court, and now, may lose his arch political strategist over the Judith Miller/Valerie Plame affair.
Out of the air comes the appointment of Ben Bernanke to succeed Alan Greenspan as Grand Keeper of Economic Prosperity, and the market reminds us of how much more presidents do than just get in trouble with partisan rivals and the news media.
The market quickly signaled its deep approval of Bernanke, the president’s chief economic adviser, and of the prospects for his acting with wisdom and prudence as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. That is to say, the market danced in the street. It uncorked champagne bottles. It made whoopee.
Which is what markets do when the president of the United States acts maturely and in the interest of freedom.
The Wall Street Journal, which mussed up Bush a little last week for his Miers nomination, will surely be leading over time the cheering section forming to welcome to the Fed chairmanship an economist of unmistakably pro-freedom, pro-common sense credentials.
And the point? I knew you’d ask. Surely, the point is, whereas Bush’s red-state conservative constituents occasionally seem ready to throw him to the lions, that might not be real smart.
My sermon today is of human imperfection, and how in politics, when you can’t get everything you want, when you want it, you just plow ahead, because sometimes in the furrow you turn up a Ben Bernanke — a nobler find than you would expect had John Kerry or Al Gore hitched up the team. We never get all we want from a president. I am talking of my fellow conservatives, you will understand. As for the apostles of regulation, government meddling and faux equality — the liberals, that is — they’ll have to look out for themselves.
Memory inclines me to this view. As a teenager, I saw Dwight Eisenhower frustrate the anti-New Dealers who had expected more of the first Republican president in two decades. We jumped all over Ronald Reagan for not downsizing spending or government. In retrospect, we’re happy enough to honor him for cutting taxes and winning the Cold War.
I had been meditating on these matters while the lynch mob was forming up for Harriet Miers, the Iraqi insurgents were planning their next hit job and the special prosecutor was eyeing Karl Rove for alleged complicity in outing a supposed undercover agent opposed to the Iraq war. I think a lot of people had been similarly meditating. A lot has lately gone wrong for Bush. I had predicted his stars might realign.
So have they? Hard to tell. I would say only that when a mega economic task comes up, it helps to have a president in charge who, in economics, is more Reagan than he is Al Gore. For blessings of this sort, we might consider — down as we get on Bush sometimes — demobilizing the attack vehicle for, oh, 15 minutes or so. I suppose it must be a function of age. I find it harder and harder to get mad and stay mad at politicians over the human stupidities for which they fall. I admire those who fall less often and less hard than others. In the end, none has quite the power and vision, and even luck, which supporters ascribe to him.
No democratic political leader hits a home run every time at plate. More often, the box score records bunts, infield singles and the occasional foul-out.
Ben Bernanke is a home run — that we know. The batter was Bush. We grumbling conservatives might still wish Reagan were in the White House. But he’s not, and we’re not necessarily doing as badly as we sometimes think — I mean, given some of the alternatives.