Appointing Summers as Fed Chairman would lower my respect for President Obama, probably more than any other action he has taken, and certainly more than his retention of Clapper as Director of National Intelligence.
Maybe this is just a rationalization in response to my perception that continued pressure including from Progressive critics might still be able to deter a Summers appointment, and that there is much less possibility of influencing any decisions relating to Clapper or the NSA. But it seems to me useful to contrast the following aspects of the Summers and Clapper decisions.
Everything relating to the NSA is obviously opaque, and probably involves more layers of deception than the public can possibly see through. This includes the ends and means of Clapper, and of Obama in appointing and retaining him as director of national intelligence. For example:
• We have no way of knowing what types of pressure can be applied by the NSA to Clapper, Obama or any President or other senior official.
• It is conceivable that neither Clapper nor Obama has the ability to rein in the NSA.
• It is conceivable that the only way for either of them to obtain needed cooperation from the NSA is to lie to Congress and the public.
• It is conceivable that Clapper, during the remainder of Obama’s term as President, might do more to address Progressives’ concerns than any potential substitute director of national intelligence.
• Obama can dismiss the director of national intelligence at any time, as can the next President.
No such excuses apply to the possible appointment of Summers as Federal Reserve Chairman:
• Summers’ roles in previous positions have been widely documented.
• Summers’ unsuitability (and the greater suitability of a relatively uncontroversial and confirmable alternative in Yellen) for this position is obvious not only to Progressives but to many Democratic Senators and to an apparent majority of mainstream economists.
• In contrast to the NSA, in connection with Fed policies and operations, there is relative transparency in most of the trade-offs, and in the competition between different interests, theories and philosophies. Even the carrots and sticks that Wall Street can brandish at Obama and other politicians appear more understandable, probably consisting largely of actual and potential money flows to support or oppose candidates and policies.
• The Fed Chairman appointee will remain in place after the end of Obama’s term as President.