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Ready, Fire, Aim

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Friday, August 27, 2010

House Minority Leader John Boehner has a brilliant idea.

Nearly one in 10 Americans is out of work. The housing market stinks. The stock market is barely holding on. Republicans, much as I hate to say it, have a real opportunity in this midterm election.
 
And what is the brilliant plan from the man leading the charge in the House of Representatives?

Fire Larry Summers.

If you are a normal American, you might ask, "Who?" My guess is, if I were to stand on a street corner anywhere in America other than Harvard Square (where he used to be the local president), not a soul would recognize the man who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton and now serves as a senior economic adviser to President Obama.

Is this really the man responsible for the faltering U.S. economy? Did he package all those toxic mortgages? Did he extend credit to people who were already overextended? Did he take on risks that were foolhardy on their face to up his compensation? Did he deregulate the financial sector?
 
Actually, no. Quite the contrary. Just a few short years ago, during the retrospectively golden years of the Clinton administration, he was widely regarded as an economic genius.
 
Indeed, even conservatives will tell you that among the president's economic advisers, Larry is on the conservative side. Although these days, I'm not entirely sure how "liberal" and "conservative" are defined in the economic debate. Suffice it to say that, like him or not, almost everybody who has ever dealt with Larry (as I am happy to admit I have) recognizes that he is brilliant and honest, if sometimes too outspoken for his own good (e.g., the women in science business). Larry is someone who understands both fiscal and monetary policy, knows his way around the Hill and has even balanced some budgets in his time.
 
But the silliness of Boehner's idea goes beyond his poor choice of targets.
 
Republicans are seeking to wrest control of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, and their platform consists of a change in the senior staff? Hello...? Anyone home?
 
Back in 1994, when Republicans faced a similar opportunity two years into the Clinton administration, then House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich turned to some of the smartest people on the Republican side to formulate and test his "Contract with America." To be honest, I can't exactly remember what was in it, but it had all the appearances of being an honest-to-goodness "plan." It made the Republicans at least look like they were for something, as opposed to just being against the Clinton plan. It served to nationalize the election in an affirmative way. It swept Gingrich into the Speaker's chair.
 
It was everything that Boehner's plan isn't.
 
The only group with anything remotely resembling a "plan" on the Republican side is the tea party movement. But even there, the plan has yet to be translated into a national electoral platform that all Republicans can embrace. The inexperience of many tea party favorites and the high negatives of others (hello, Sarah Palin) have created opportunities for some Democrats
whose obits were all but written (hello, Harry Reid).
 
What Republicans need from their leaders in Washington, despicable place though it may be, is what Gingrich gave them in 1994: the appearance of a plan for governing the country; a set of answers other than "no." So long as the best they can come up with is firing Larry Summers, Democrats have a fair chance of avoiding disaster.

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