The New Yorker recently had an illuminating profile of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Beyond exploring how Bernanke’s Alan-Greenspan-hand-me-down, laissez faire philosophy contributed to our current recession (hey, we may yet get a Great Depression out of this after all!), the article presents this revealing account of Bernake’s first meeting with Bush.
In June 2005, Bernanke was sworn in at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. One of his first tasks was to deliver a monthly economics briefing to the President and the Vice-President. After he and Hubbard sat down in the Oval Office, President Bush noticed that Bernanke was wearing light-tan socks under his dark suit. “Where did you get those socks, Ben?” he asked. “They don’t match.” Bernanke didn’t falter. “I bought them at the Gap—three pairs for seven dollars,” he replied. During the briefing, which lasted about forty-five minutes, the President mentioned the socks several times.
The following month, Hubbard’s deputy, Keith Hennessey, suggested that the entire economics team wear tan socks to the briefing. Hubbard agreed to call Vice-President Cheney and ask him to wear tan socks, too. “So, a little later, we all go into the Oval Office, and we all show up in tan socks,” Hubbard recalled. “The President looks at us and sees we are all wearing tan socks, and he says in a cool voice, ‘Oh, very, very funny.’ He turns to the Vice-President and says, ‘Mr. Vice-President, what do you think of these guys in their tan socks?’ Then the Vice-President shows him that he’s wearing them, too. The President broke up.
This emphasis of propriety—something Bernanke dismissed earlier in the article as “signaling”—is the only thing Bush seemed to have a handle on during his eight years in office. Hell, about the only time he apologized was after needling a reporter for wearing sunglasses. The reporter turned out to be blind.
I guess that’s what you get when you elect the first M.B.A. President. We took a middle manager and made him the most powerful man in the world.