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Bush’ Bad and Good Choice

Omkar Goswami


Since President George W. Bush, like many of his illustrious predecessors, cares for his long standing friends, he rewards them with prestigious jobs whenever he can. Some of them are loyal and supremely competent, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; some are loyal but un-statesmanlike like Donald Rumsfeld; and some carry only the attribute of loyalty. By all accounts, Harriet Miers, the President’s nominee for being a justice at the US Supreme Court belongs to the last category.  


Ms. Miers has been Bush’s personal lawyer for a long time. She probably knows every legal detail of the President’s life and is a right wing fellow traveller. Unfortunately, these attributes don’t make her a jurisprudential authority that one expects of a justice in the US Supreme Court. Even according to conservative legal experts, Ms. Miers doesn’t make the cut by a long shot. Some don’t even think that ranks among the top 100 conservative lawyers in the US.


Since the US Supreme Court appointment is for life — and not concurrent with the tenure of a President, as it is in many administrative postings — Bush may have actually gone too far. First, for recommending someone who knows too much of the President’s personal details; and second, for picking someone who even conservatives believe to be judicially ill equipped to hold this post.


Given the legislative dominance of the Republicans, it is likely that Ms. Miers may get approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. And over time, she may also turn out to being  a hardworking and sagacious judge. Even so, the choice for such a high office — especially one that epitomises independence from the executive — has too much of cronyism for comfort.


I have asked some in the know why Bush nominated Ms. Miers. Hubris is no answer. Even those who believe that George W. Bush has many unpalatable attributes do not consider the arrogance of power to be one of them. In his own way, Bush cares deeply for the great US constitutional institutions; and he couldn’t have chosen Ms. Miers in the same cynical way as, say, Mrs. Indira Gandhi chose Giani Zail Singh. The most acceptable explanation is that he didn’t want to rock the boat with a hard core conservative nominee; that he genuinely believed she was okay; and is now amazed and hurt that others don’t believe in his judgement. Simplistic, but probably true.


Thankfully, within ten days Bush has redeemed himself by making an excellent choice — the successor of Allan Greenspan as the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve. Given his belief that Ms. Miers was “exceptionally well suited” for being a Supreme Court judge, people feared that he might nominate his friendly neighbourhood Texan banker to step into Greenspan’s shoes. Thankfully, he hasn’t.


Most Indians may not know of Ben Bernanke; but the fact is that he is a very good choice as Greenspan’s successor. Bernanke is an excellent and widely respected monetary economist; has been a former governor of the Fed and knows how the institution works; and is currently the chairman of Bush’ Council of Economic Advisers. He and Martin Feldstein of Harvard were by far the best candidates. It is a good sign that Bush chose one from the top of the pack.


If people are worried about Bernanke’s outspokenness (versus the circumlocutory sentences that were Greenspan’s leitmotif), or his academic preference for inflation targeting monetary policy (which Greenspan avoided like the plague), he steered away from all such stuff in his very first press conference by promising to follow the legacy and road map of his god-like predecessor. The markets cheered.


Will Bernanke rock the Fed boat? Unlikely. The Fed is a larger than life institution and the chairman is the first among equals. It is more like that the Fed will mould Benanke much more than he will rock the Fed. Will he be good enough to wield the Maestro’s baton? That’s what people said when a relatively unknown Greenspan was appointed after Paul Volker. Eighteen and a half year later he leaves as the undisputed God of Central Banking. Another 18 years later, who knows what people will say of Ben Bernanke?


Published: Business World, October 2005


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