Annie Lowrey and the Summers of love: Who will be the next Fed chairman, Janet Yellen or Lawrence Summers?
We have no idea. Nor are we positioned to judge the duel on the merits. Over at Slate, Matt Yglesias offers some observations about the way these job hunts work in the case of Summers:
YGLESIAS (8/5/13): The fact that Summers was a bad university administrator doesn’t mean that he’d be a bad Federal Reserve chairman. But it does show that Summers’ friends have a habit of vouching for him when they shouldn’t. Summers turned out to have exactly the flaws Rubin promised the search committee he didn’t have anymore.Yglesias says this new job may be like the job as Harvard president. It may just be the best job out there, so Larry Summers' three million friends are doggedly seeking it for him.
Another parallel that strikes me is it was never clear why Summers wanted the Harvard job in the first place. As of 2001 he was an extremely well-regarded economist with no particular background in academic administration or association with any university reform agenda. It just seemed like the most prestigious job he could plausibly get, and so his friends set about to get it for him...
This made us think of the way Annie Lowrey quoted Summers’ three million friends in the New York Times last week.
Lowrey’s piece appeared atop page one of Friday’s Business Day section. Essentially, it compared and contrasted Yellen and Summers, the last two real competitors for the job.
It was a familiar type of piece—until Lowrey started quoting Summers’ three million friends. At that point, she went on and on and on and on, like Homer describing the shield of Achilles, the one the great warrior carried into battle against Hector, tamer of horses.
Listing the virtues of Summers, Lowrey executed a damn good Homer impression. In the hard-copy Times, her piece ran 28 paragraphs. Things were proceeding in normal fashion until paragraph 10, when she offered this:
LOWREY (8/2/13): “You can’t find a member of the economic team who is for anyone but Larry,” said a person close to the administration who declined to talk on the record before Mr. Obama makes his decision. “That’s true at Treasury, that’s true at the White House. The reason is, Larry has been through this. Larry brings the right skills to bear here.”At that point, the floodgates opened, as happened when Homer began describing the brilliant shield crafted by Hephaestus, the crippled smith. Lowrey went on and on, then on and on, quoting various stars, named and unnamed, praising Summers for his supernal greatness.
Yglesias says that Summers has many friends. Rather quickly, we began wondering if Lowrey, a young climber from Summers’ own Harvard, might not be numbered among them!
Lowrey when on and on, then on and on after that. “Several former colleagues said they felt that Mr. Summers’s reputation as being difficult to work with has been overblown,” she wrote. And not only that: “Many officials who enjoyed working with Mr. Summers remain in prominent positions within the White House.”
“Others agreed that Mr. Summers could at times be brusque, but that he also welcomed being challenged,” Lowrey noted. She quoted Stuart Eizenstat and Sheryl Sandberg citing their pal’s favorite line: “Tell me why I’m wrong.”
Lowrey didn’t ask either worthy if Summers had ever acceded to the evidence which was offered in the course of any such challenge.
“People close to White House officials said that many of them considered Mr. Summers perhaps the most brilliant economic policy mind of his generation,” Lowrey said as she continued. “His deep understanding of the economy, concern with unemployment and ability to manage complexity and crisis would make him a stellar Fed chairman, they argue.”
These unnamed sources also “not[ed] how much Mr. Obama likes how Mr. Summers’s mind works,” Lowrey wrote. An unnamed policy expert offered this thought:
“There’s going to be an international crisis at some point, and he’s the guy you want in the room.”
Annie Lowrey wasn’t through with her chronicle of Summerslove. Summers “set himself apart as an economic thinker among Mr. Obama’s advisers and staff members during the 2008 campaign,” she said some former colleagues of his had said. After letting Stephanie Cutter gush about Summers for a full graf, Lowrey offered an additional thought:
“White House insiders said that Mr. Summers’s firsthand management of the Asian financial crises, and the influence of his ideas managing the downturn in 2009, made them more confident at his ability to handle problems that might confront the American economy in the next few years.”
Incredibly, there was more. We invite you to set an afternoon aside and read through all the gushing. To us, it seemed like a strange analysis piece.
But then, we aren’t on the way up! We got the slight impression last week that one young reporter may be.
Janet Yellen comes and goes. Lawrence Summers is endless.