Newsweek: Obama Economic Guru Is 'Lucid' and 'Dazzling,' Unless He Moves to the Center

February 23rd, 2009 10:36 PM

Three weeks ago, Time magazine published a gooey profile of "brash and brilliant" Larry Summers, the chief economic guru to President Obama. Newsweek followed suit in this week’s edition, calling Summer "lucid" and "dazzling," a man who stands out on "a team of Harvard and Yale types whose SAT scores have not been equaled since the Kennedy administration."

Michael Hirsh and Evan Thomas probably didn’t undertake an investigative survey of the SAT scores of the cabinet officers of Reagan or Bush or Nixon or even Bill Clinton. They’re guessing, but are trying hard to spin readers into thinking a wave of intellect has swept over Washington. But are Summers and Company "lucid" because they’re liberal, or are they liberal because they’re "lucid"? Here’s the passage where the praise flows like syrup:

Last spring and summer he began to see that government's normal machinery for stabilizing the economy – the ability of the Federal Reserve to raise and lower interest rates and print money – was not working to head off a crash. He began writing lucid op-eds in the Financial Times arguing for swift government intervention and – more important – giving smart briefings to Sen. Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for president. The briefings were so good – dazzling, all present agree – that, when the time came, Obama made Summers his chief economic adviser.

Summers, 54, is perhaps the brainiest of the best and brightest assembled by Obama. The president has assembled a team of Harvard and Yale types whose SAT scores have not been equaled since perhaps the Kennedy administration.

At least the Newsweek duo is sharp enough to underscore that good test scores don’t always mean policy success:

JFK brought in the likes of McGeorge Bundy, who had been appointed dean of the faculty at Harvard at 34 and whom JFK made his national-security adviser. Bundy turned out to be smart but not always wise – he urged JFK, then LBJ, to become more deeply involved in Vietnam.

Hirsh and Thomas seem worried that for all his newfound humility and openness to new ideas, Summers will end up being a Republican wolf in sheep’s clothing:

While some economists have advocated even greater government intervention to solve the current crisis, including nationalizing troubled banks, Summers seems to be trying hard to avoid swinging back too far toward overregulation. "He's very much a market man. He'll come out more on the side of lighter regulation," says political consultant David Gergen, an old friend.

The "new Larry" may turn out to be like the "new Nixon."