All the political energy in Washington concerning President Obama's second-term Cabinet is currently focused on the nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Much of the talk concerns Hagel’s relative independence, whether his experience and maturity will prevent him from being a team player and how his own judgments on key issues might influence the president’s thinking.
There is no such talk circulating about the equally vital nomination of White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to be Treasury secretary.
While everyone is busy parsing Hagel’s substantial record and fretting over his policy positions, our Treasury Secretary designee isn’t facing any such scrutiny. Maybe it is because Lew doesn’t have an independent record on economic issues and economic philosophy, or any public personal policy positions. This doesn’t mean he is unqualified, but it shouldn’t distract Republicans from talking about the Obama economy and what the Lew nomination means.
Jack Lew is an able political generalist. His experience means he is well-suited as chief of staff. However, this is not the best credential for a Treasury secretary, especially during these troubled times.
Lew’s nomination sends no encouraging signal to any part of the American economy. His nomination means nothing to manufacturing industries, nothing to private-sector service businesses and nothing to businesses that form or manage capital. No one believes his experience gives him any insight into how their business works and what challenges they face.
Maybe that is the message: Lew is more of the same. Think Timothy Geithner but with less experience, no economic or business history to speak of and fewer relationships with business and economic opinion leaders.
The only groups that could see any useful signal in the Lew appointment could be unions — particularly government unions — and old economic institutions that have benefited from the grotesque explosion of government spending while Lew managed the process at the White House.
If you want more of the same from the economy, then Jack Lew is the perfect nominee. Nothing suggests he will rock the boat. Nothing suggests he will challenge the president’s biases, and nothing suggests he has any particular economic point of view or philosophy that will be relevant. Put me down as a Republican who misses the strong personality of Larry Summers. If ever there was a need for a fresh perspective and renewed energy in Washington, it is now. Obviously, the president doesn’t see it that way.