Finally! The announced departure of Lawrence Summers as the president's top economic adviser is welcome news. Harvard's loss in taking back its $586,996-a-year professor and "president emeritus," who is also paid millions by Wall Street on the side, is the nation's gain. Maybe now Barack Obama, who hopefully will also push out Summers' prote'ge', Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, will begin to provide an authentic populist alternative to those tea party Republicans who totally absolve Wall Street of responsibility for the economic collapse. But the early signs are not fully reassuring.
As I stated in my column last week, for the umpteenth time urging Summers' dismissal, I expected the president to have kind words for a man who deserved none if he were to be fired. But Obama's effusive praise on Tuesday went well beyond the requirements of professional pink-slip courtesy and suggests that he is still in denial over the role of key Democrats like Summers in getting us into this mess:
"I will always be grateful that at a time of great peril for our country, a man of Larry's brilliance, experience and judgment was willing to answer the call and lead our economic team."
A parsing of that one sentence will reveal much of what is rotten in our political system and distorted in the president's response to the economic crisis he inherited. There is simply no serious accountability when Summers is lionized for his disastrous service and Wall Street's high rollers are bailed out after their stark disgrace. By what standard would one judge as "brilliant" the abysmal performance of Summers both as treasury secretary in the Clinton administration and more recently as a top economic adviser for Obama?
The "great peril" for our country that
Obama referred to was a direct result of the radical financial
deregulation that Summers helped make law when he worked for Bill
Clinton. He led the effort to destroy the career of Brooksley Born, the
Clinton-appointed head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who
had the prescience to sound the alarm in the face of a dangerously
spiraling market in suspect mortgage packages. Her sensible suggestion
in a "concept release" for a study of the risks in those newfangled
financial gimmicks horrified Summers, who told a Senate committee: