What's the Point of Bashing Bernanke?

by: Bob McTeer

We had a couple of bullies in my small high school, but I’m told that they grew up into pretty good citizens. Time seems to cure that ugly disease in most people. The main exception is our elected representatives. Something happens to them when they climb up on the dias and see the red light on the TV cameras. Senator Jekyll becomes Senator Hyde. They get to show their constituents how tough they are. I don’t watch bull fights, dog fights, or rooster fights, and it’s getting harder to watch congressional hearings.

What I don’t understand is why politicians think their deviant behavior is so appealing back home. They apparently don’t have a very high regard for the home folks, especially those in Kentucky and Vermont. My guess is that those folks are better than their Senators give them credit for. Surely blue grass and autumn leaves have some calming effect.

To my way of thinking, Chairman Bernanke (and Secretary Paulson) deserve the highest praise for saving our financial system and avoiding another great depression. I’ve defended Bernanke in blogs, speeches and TV appearances (see previous post). So have wise people like Warren Buffett. But our way of thinking, apparently, is not making any headway.

On Thursday, I heard that a major poll showed a majority against Bernanke’s reappointment. I guess that shows the power of financial TV and its guests who compete with each other in outrageousness hoping to be invited back.

When I heard those poll results, I thought of my forty something years making speeches to audiences who had no idea what the Fed is and how it works. That these people now have a negative opinion of Ben Bernanke just doesn’t compute.

Maybe they think of him as a “pointy-headed bureaucrat” to use a populist label popularized by George Wallace many years ago, since everyone seems to be scrambling to be a populist these days. Of course, neither term fits, but “round-headed academic” hasn’t been invented yet.

I sat next to Chairman Bernanke at FOMC meetings during most of his approximately three years as a Fed Governor before he left to become Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. My favorite and most memorable whispered conversation with him during lulls and breaks had nothing to do with inflation targeting or crisis management. It was when I was playing small-town Georgia country boy and he informed me that he grew up in a small town in South Carolina not all that far from where I grew up in north Georgia. My shock turned into amazement when he added that he waited tables at “South of the Border,” a place you have to see to believe. Google described it with understatement as “a classic freeway tourist trap, pyrotechnics bonanza, and vacation theme world.” I seem to remember snakes in cages, but I may be misremembering. Anyway, that exit on Interstate 95 has been named after the Chairman. Cool.

Ben’s shocking revelation didn’t necessarily make him a regular guy, but it helped. He is still burdened by having attended a college that didn’t have a good football team.

Even so, he should be confirmed to finish the job.