Larry Summers’s Baggage Weighed Against His Expertise

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Lawrence Taylor Photo: Getty Images

As we wrote yesterday, the list of potential Treasury Secretaries seems to have narrowed to two finalists — Larry Summers, who served the same role in Bill Clinton's administration, and Timothy Geithner of the New York Federal Reserve — who happen to have a long, close, and undramatic relationship with each other. But as with Rahm Emanuel — who some see as just the kind of jerk Barack Obama needs and others as a jerk, period — many people are airing their concerns about Summers before he's even been tapped. Meanwhile, others are thinking, past controversies be damned — what really matters now is finding someone with the right experience and expertise.

• Lisa Lerer and Victoria McGrane write that Democrats are split into two camps behind Summers and Geithner. Summers has "a long history of government service," but under Clinton he "was a major proponent of free trade, deregulation and free market-oriented policies, which have come under fire in recent months as the economy has spiraled downward," though in recent years he's "taken a more progressive stance on economic issues." Geithner, for his part, has "been at the very center of the government’s fast-evolving response to the financial crisis." [Politico]

• Noam Scheiber says Obama is fond of both men, but his "personal biases" could hurt either one's chances. Obama's "well-known dislike of 'drama' could "tilt the calculus toward Geithner." But "Obama has an equally strong preference for expertise, which could favor Summers." [New Republic]

• Daniel Arnall writes that Summers's "baggage" could hurt his chances. His "most damning" controversy was "when he said basic genetic differences between the sexes may be one reason why fewer women succeed in math and science careers." However, if "Obama overlooks the potential political fallout from women's groups and taps Summers for the top job at Treasury, he will get someone who has a well-defined sense of the financial world." [ABC News]

• Bonnie Erbe calls "the fact Summers's name surfaced a downright insult to women," especially if "the highly influential former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker is available." [U.S. News]

• Justin Fox notes that "Summers was an awfully controversial guy a couple years ago," and his sins, which are numerous, will all be revisited during his confirmation hearings. But on the plus side, "Summers is really, really smart. He melds his academic brilliance with Washington experience and savvy in a way that no one else can." [Curious Capitalist/Time]

• Peter G. Gosselin writes that, though Obama often turned to Summers for advice during the campaign, he now "faces conflicting advice from his close advisers, from Capitol Hill and from important Democratic constituencies" on who to tap for Treasury Secretary. Though Summers may be one of "the country's best and brightest," there are concerns not only about "positions on deregulation he took a decade ago or his knack for incendiary comments," but about "how he would fit in with the team approach Obama and his closest aides envision for handling the economy." [LAT]

• Josh Marshall is "really having a hard time understanding" why Obama should pick Summers, considering that there are perhaps "four or five completely independent reasons not to appoint" him. Is he really "the only person with the economist chops and political instincts to manage this arduous task?" [Talking Points Memo]

• Max Blumenthal recounts a "lesser known episode in Summers' past that further highlights his reckless tendencies, and foreshadows a politically nettlesome nomination process." This is when, as an economist for the World Bank, Summers "authored a private memo arguing that the bank should actively encourage the dumping of toxic waste in developing countries," which he described as "under-polluted." [Nation]

Earlier: Treasury Secretary Hunt Pits Student Against Master