Nominee Ben Bernanke newsflash: Bush does know more than five people

by Brian Clarey

So what are we supposed to make of Ben Bernanke, the 51-year-old economist named by President Bush to be Allen Greenspan’s successor as chairman of the Federal Reserve? In the wake of Bush’s recent crony-laden record of appointees, at first blush we’re a bit wary of Bernanke.

He has, after all, been associated with the Bush administration since 2002, when W named him to the Federal Reserve board. The president then tapped him for his Council of Economic Advisers back in April, putting Bernanke’s political career on the fast track.

Bush apparently likes and trusts the guy, and we are suspicious to say the least.

But a glance at Bernanke’s bio reveals no ties to Christian groups and no time spent in Texas politics. He’s never been CEO of a large corporation; he has never accepted a paycheck from a group that benefits from government contracts, and as far as we can tell he’s never been invited to clear brush at the presidential ranch in Crawford.

Hell, the guy probably doesn’t even own a cowboy hat.

His education withstands scrutiny: summa cum laude from Harvard and a doctorate from MIT. And he’s taught at both Stanford and Princeton universities, serving as chairman of the economics department at the latter school.

He reportedly holds somewhere between $1 million and $5 million in assets; he is a devout Red Sox fan and he likes to wear tan socks with dark suits. Seriously.

And Ben Bernanke is a Son of the South, born in Georgia and raised in Dillon County, SC, just off Interstate 95, though according to a New York Times profile of the man, Dillon is right here in North Carolina.

A somewhat more reputable paper, The State, in Columbia, SC, reports that Bernanke spent the summers of his teenage years waiting tables at South of the Border and working in his family’s pharmacy. At age 11 he won the state spelling bee and as a high schooler got the highest SAT score in the state, a combined total of 1590, which earned him a National Merit Scholarship to the hallowed halls in Cambridge. He also reportedly taught himself calculus because it wasn’t offered at Dillon High, where he matriculated in 1971.

Pretty impressive.

And as far as his politics go, we know he’s a registered Republican, understandable for someone with seven figures in his bank account, and he’s certainly on a first-name basis with all the players in Washington. But Bernanke has been keeping his mouth shut since he came on board. He hasn’t endorsed or decried any of the president’s economic policies, even though as his chief economic advisor a little horn-tooting would not have been inappropriate.

He’s no shill. We like that, too.

If approved by the Senate, Bernanke will come to power on Feb. 1, and he says he has no radical plans to change the course set by Greenspan, who has been Fed chairman since 1987.

Which sounds great, but with the imminent threats of inflation, the deflation of the housing bubble and exorbitant gasoline prices he may have to pull a few moves right out of the gate.

But that’s okay with us. Mr. Bernanke seems up to the task. Though we reserve the right to change our opinion if we ever see him in a cowboy hat.