Wednesday, July 31, 2013

OMG. Was It Something I Said, Mr. President?

My blog post about Larry Summers's ethical complexities went live at 8:44am today. As I am writing it is the top blog post on the HuffPo home page, "above the fold." (Though I wonder: Does the HuffPo have a dynamic layout algorithm, customizing content in "Daily Me" fashion? Maybe Arianna knows I like reading articles by this Lewis guy and places them high in my edition of the paper.)

Then some time today, President Obama went out of his way to defend Summers. As the New York Times reports,

Speaking to members of the House Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama said in answer to a sharp question from Representative Ed Perlmutter of Colorado that he believed Mr. Summers had been maligned in the liberal news media, according to several House Democrats who attended the meeting. 
Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, said the president described Mr. Summers as a rock of stability who deserved credit for helping to steer the American economy back from the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing recession. Mr. Obama, Mr. Connolly said, singled out the negative coverage of Mr. Summers in The Huffington Post.
The Huffington Post itself provides a little more color:
During Wednesday’s meeting, one Democratic lawmaker, who requested anonymity, said the president became agitated and rose to Summers’ defense in response to Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) walking up to the microphone and simply saying, "Larry Summers. Bad Choice." 
In paraphrasing Obama's response, the lawmaker said the president replied, "Hey, don't talk sh*t about him because he's actually a pretty good guy. And then he said, 'If somebody talked sh*t about you like that, I'd defend you too."' (The lawmaker added that Obama didn't use the expletive.) …
After Wednesday's meeting, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told reporters that Obama said he felt Summers has been treated unfairly. 
"He gave a full-throated defense of Larry Summers and his record in helping to save the economy from the dark days of '09,” he said. "I mean, Larry Summers is a very capable person. I think the president showed real moxy in rising to his defense."
Now when I saw that, it never occurred to me that I was the one who ticked off the president. I am too irrelevant to matter, and I am not a perpetual thorn in Obama's side. It is true that I have published in the HuffPo before, including another piece about Summers and Shleifer, but only because a friend asked me to write something to help puff a new book of hers. I don't actually read the Huffington Post unless someone sends me an article. I don't consider myself a liberal and I think most people consider me a conservative, at least by Harvard standards. Harvey Mansfield once called me a liberal, but I am not sure it proves anything to stipulate that I am to Harvey's left. Anyway he seemed to accept my word when I told him I was not a liberal, and then invited me to speak at a conference he was organizing on the state of the University a decade after 9/11. I am not enrolled in any organized political party (or any disorganized political party either). 

And of course I am not the only guy writing critical stuff about Summers in the Huffington Post.

Anyway, this is the sort of statement you make only when you are NOT going to appoint the guy. If Larry and Janet are kindergartners in a poetry reciting contest and the teacher goes out of her way to say what a terrific guy Larry is, doesn't that mean that Janet is about to get the prize?

Still, when someone emailed me to say I had touched a nerve, I began to wonder. Those passages from the deposition, particularly the one about how ethics in Washington is a set of arbitrary rules, at a minimum could make for some interesting confirmation questions. (The flip side of suggesting that ethical rules are arbitrary, and what you need to do is adhere to whatever the rules say, is to suggest that if the rules don't prohibit it there isn't anything wrong with it and you might as well do it if it's profitable.)

But nah. Can't be me Obama is talking about. Not only am I not a liberal, I didn't say anything unfair.

Unless maybe it's my statement that "Summers' moneymaking is less about greed than ego." Is that unfair? OK, you win then; it's unfair, I take it back. Summers's moneymaking is about greed after all.


  1. For what it's worth, you're above the fold on my HuffPo, too. Behind Scheer and Madrick (and several other blogs about how Diet Coke makes you fat), but definitely there.

    Or they already know enough about me to know that I like reading articles by this Lewis guy.

  2. 1) I still can't tell if your blog post (in Ho-Po) caused
    the presidents remarks.

    2) I can't even tell if you think they did.

    3) Yes, if a kindergarden teacher praises someones work then that person won't be getting the prize. I would like to think that our politics is not like kindergarden.

    4) If praising someone really is a way of saying they are not going to get the job, then how do you praise someone
    for real?

    1. 1) Neither can I.
      2) I doubt it. But I sure am having fun with the idea.
      3) So would I but we would both be wrong.
      4) You say it when you actually think it is true, not just when the person needs help from you. Seriously, random acts of kindness work wonders for people. I have started telling people I know that they look terrific, and then explain that I am not flirting, it is true, and for some reason several of my friends seem to have fallen ill these days so I am just reminding everyone not to take anything for granted.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I don't know - this random acts of kindness business sounds kind of liberal-ish to me.