Like most magazine features on the ongoing financial crisis, John Cassidy’s profile of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke in today’s New Yorker is more of a “summary of everything that’s happened up till now” than the “anatomy of a meltdown” it promises, which can’t really be helped: How can anyone dissect anything that doesn’t stay still long enough to pin it down? But the story does flesh out the character of Bernanke a little bit more, which is nice. For instance, we learn that he learned to read in kindergarten and skipped first grade; that he competed in the National Spelling Bee at age 11 but lost on the word “edelweiss,” thereby dashing his “dream” (then-dream? Life’s dream? Unclear) to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Also he occasionally enjoys a pick-up basketball game and has pledged to do the “very best [he] can” to solve the financial crisis. In short: He is every bit as square and kind of boring as we imagined. However! President Bush finds him hilarious, and in fact, he is technically sort of responsible for one of the funniest Oval Office gags since Agnew replaced Nixon’s hair oil with shoe polish.
President Bush noticed that Bernanke was wearing light-tan socks under his dark suit. “Where did you get those socks, Ben?” he asked. “They don’t match.” Bernanke didn’t falter. “I bought them at the Gap — three pairs for seven dollars,” he replied. During the briefing, which lasted about forty-five minutes, the President mentioned the socks several times.
The following month, [Al] Hubbard’s deputy, Keith Hennessey, suggested that the entire economics team wear tan socks to the briefing. Hubbard agreed to call Vice-President Cheney and ask him to wear tan socks, too. “So, a little later, we all go into the Oval Office, and we all show up in tan socks,” Hubbard recalled. “The President looks at us and sees we are all wearing tan socks, and he says in a cool voice, ‘Oh, very, very funny.’ He turns to the Vice-President and says, ‘Mr. Vice-President, what do you think of these guys in their tan socks?’ Then the Vice-President shows him that he’s wearing them, too. The President broke up.”
We guess you kind of had to be there.
Anatomy of a Meltdown [NYer]