It’s a measure of just how far the president’s stock has fallen that he couldn’t get the Federal Reserve chairman he wanted because Democrats revolted. Democratic Senators Jon Tester of Montana, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio all publicly said they wouldn’t support the Clinton-era economist. Certainly the liberal base was up in arms that President Obama might have the temerity to appoint a business-friendly veteran of the Clinton administration.
Rather than fight, Summers (no doubt at the White House’s behest) stepped aside, just as Susan Rice shied away from a tough nomination fight for secretary of state. But Rice was a victim of the right; Summers’s rejection by the left is a reminder that the president has disappointed his base on so many topics (the sequester, failure to repeal all the Bush tax cuts, gun control, single-payer health care and climate change) that he felt obliged to relent on this one.
The Summers rejection also underscores that the left lacks a post-Obama standard-bearer, at least for now. Hillary Clinton? She was for the war in Iraq, supported the use of force in Libya and commended the president for seeking authorization to use force in Syria. If left up to her, she might actually lead from the front! But Summers is also a reminder that the Clintons have been Third Wave Democrats, generally friendly to business. Bill Clinton was the one who championed the North American Free Trade Agreement and cut capital gains taxes.
There is plenty of chatter about how the GOP has moved right in recent years, but under Obama, Democrats have moved left. They’d rally to keep the president from having a critical choice for the Fed, just as many were ready to cross him on the authorization for use of force in Syria.
If Obama is regarded as feckless and inept on the international stage and easily pushed around by his own party, you wonder what is going to get accomplished in the next three years. Very little, I suspect.
Inaction on taxes, spending and climate-control legislation suits conservatives. But anything requiring actual initiative (e.g. tax reform, entitlement reform, confronting Iran) is unlikely to be undertaken by this president. Summers is simply the latest sign that Obama is well on his way to lame-duck status.