Larry Summers is not the wind beneath Bette Midler’s wings

August 12, 2013
Stephen Lovekin / GETTY IMAGES
Stephen Lovekin / GETTY IMAGES

We've heard from economists and lawmakers of the left and right, and before too long we'll hear who President Obama thinks should be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve. But what does Bette Midler think?

On Monday, the world finally learned, as the Divine Miss M shared her opinions of leading candidate Larry Summers on Twitter. She does not care for him!

Okay, then. So, is Midler's assessment of Summers fair? He was indeed a top Treasury official in the 1990s, as the order of the day in Washington was to deregulate the financial industry. It's probably overstating things to describe him as "the architect" of deregulation. It was an approach favored by two consecutive presidential administrations (Clinton and Bush), Summers's predecessor as Treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, and then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who throughout the period in question actually was in charge of the primary regulator of the major banks.

The "he has never stopped to say 'oops, my bad'" criticism is accurate. I know of no incident in which Summers has placed blame for the crisis on his own shoulders. But he has done some significant rethinking of the role of regulation since the crisis and has shown a nuanced view of things. And while at the White House in 2009-2010, he played a significant role shaping what became the Dodd-Frank financial reform act to heighten regulation of big banks, create a consumer financial protection bureau, and more.

As for Summers' supporting higher salaries for bank CEOs, this may refer to the difficult period in 2009 when the Obama administration was wrestling with how to deal with executive compensation at bailed-out firms. In the wake of outcry over bonuses to AIG employees, for example, Summers said that the admnistration was trying to stop the bonuses but legally couldn't. "Secretary Geithner courageously has gone after these bonuses and will continue to go after these bonuses in a very aggressive way, but we can't suspend the rule of law and we can't put the whole economy at risk," Summers said in a CNN interview. "It is wrong to govern out of anger . . .  we can't let anger stop us from taking the steps that are necessary to maintain the stability of the financial system, keep credit flowing." Not quite the same as being a huge advocate

But at least as the president considers this appointment, on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard, he can know that Midler is offering advice from a distance. But presumably he will wait to hear what Barbra Streisand has to say before making a final decision.

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Lydia DePillis · August 12, 2013