Saturday, November 3, 2012

Same Old Bernanke

I hold no grudges. 
     So when Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Board Chairman, asked me to meet with him for lunch, I agreed, but I agreed knowing that Bernanke had a chip on his shoulder regarding me ever since he asked me if I had ever slept with his wife.
     "Not a wink," I assured him.
     I remembered the last time I had lunch with Bernanke. It was in Washington DC when they had their big earthquake. The waiter had just put the check down in front of Bernanke when the tremors started. The Chairman jumped up and ran out of the restaurant screaming like a little girl, his hands waving wildly above his head. I got stuck with the bill. So... this time around...
     "Who's going to pay," I asked him.
     "The taxpayers," he told me. 
     Same old Bernanke.  He never changes. 
     This was just before the Democratic National Convention, and President Obama--the man who once saved my life in 'Nam--was stymied about this whole economy thing.  The housing market was still in the toilet, the job market was still stuck in reverse, and the economy was still dancing Michael Jackson's moonwalk (i.e. stepping forward, but moving back).
     "We just don't know what to do," Bernanke confessed to me.  He sounded exasperated.  He'd have been pulling out his hair...  if he still had any.
     "Yeah, but why call me?" I asked him as I looked over the menu. For the record, I wanted to go someplace simple, like Frisco's on Yarborough Drive. Their burgers and rolled tacos were the best in the city, and it wouldn't cost us the price of one Chicago vote, but Bernanke asked me what the most expensive restaurant in the city was, and then insisted we go there. I continued, "Political spin is not what I do."
     "That's what I told B.O.," he said, rather bluntly, "but he insisted I talk with you."
     I looked at him.  He tried to meet my gaze, but then shifted his eyes.  There was something more he wasn't telling me.
     "Look, Jim," he continued, "you've always had a way of taking a half-step to the side to look at things.  The President wanted that off-kilter point of view.  He doesn't care what happened in Pakistan."
     The waitress came by just then to take our order.
     "I'll take the ribs," I told her.  "With a baked potato, extra butter and sour cream."
     She turned to look at Bernanke.
     "Whatever's the most expensive item on the menu," he said, without even looking at her, "bring it to me."
     Same old Bernanke.  He never changes.
     I thought about what happened in Pakistan.  Obama personally sent me down with SEAL Team Six to capture Osama bin Laden alive, and I've been persona non grata ever since. I didn't mean to kill him. I thought he was holding an automatic weapon in his hand, but it just turned out to be a Ron Jeremy video.
     Shiite happens.
     "Well," I said to Bernanke, after the waitress had left, "what do you have?"
     "I have an idea," he began, and shifted forward in his chair in excitement.  "First off, we know the economy is in the toilet.  We know Obama is dismantling the space program and the military.  We know the economy's so ugly if it went into a haunted house, it would come out with a job application.  So, what we do is sell the American people on the idea that this miserableness they feel is actually happiness.  The world might be going down faster than Monica Lewinski in the Oval Office, but that's okay as long as you're happy, we tell them."
     "Ben," I said, "that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard in my life, and, trust me, I know all about stupid ideas. I've had the misfortune of riding in an elevator with Joe Biden."
     Bernanke was a bit miffed by my casual dismissal of what he thought was his "great idea."  Bernanke's the kind of guy who must have been praised too enthusiastically by his mother during his potty training years. 
     "Hey," he insisted, "I know things are in the crapper.  Unemployment rose to 8.3 percent in July, economic growth has slowed sharply from the start of 2012, and the price of gasoline is higher than Lindsay Lohan on a Saturday night, but if we tell people it doesn't matter, if we tell people that they're happy... after a while, they'll start to believe it. And once we convince them of that, it'll be a breeze to convince them to give us another four years."
     He looked me straight in the eye, and waited for me to say something. It was an old trick, so I waited too. When he started to shift uncomfortably in his seat, I finally spoke.
     "To do what?" I asked.
     "What?" he said, his eyes blinking rapidly.
     "Another four years to do what?"
     "What do you mean what?"
     "I mean what exactly do you plan on doing in your second four years that you didn't have the opportunity to do in your first four years?"
     Bernanke stayed quiet. He tried to meet my gaze, but kept averting his eyes. Then he stood up suddenly, and acted like he was looking around.
     "Where are the bathrooms at?" he asked.
     I pointed in one direction, and he quickly walked off in the other. He left and never came back... and I got stuck with the bill. Again!
     Same old Bernanke. He never changes.

American Chimpanzee

No comments:

Post a Comment