Leave Greenspan Alone

In the wake of President Bush’s re-election last November, the Republicans have been gathering forces, preparing Supreme Court nominations, Social Security reform and a potential move to reshape the tax code. During this time, the Democrats have seemed like a ship without a captain. They have initially promoted reconciliation and compromise with the Republican congressional majority … and then threatened to habitually use the filibuster rule to block countless bills and higher court nominees. Amid this muddle and indirection, it was only inevitable that one member of the party leadership would crack and do something incredibly foolish.
Senator Harry Reid did such a deed last week, when he took aim at an improbable target-outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. On CNN’s “Inside Politics,” Reid called the Chairman “one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington.” Reid went on to cite his historical opposition to the Chairman.
What spurred this somewhat strange ad hominem? Last week, Greenspan testified that Congress should deal with the problems facing Medicare and Social Security. Greenspan did not give a ringing endorsement of administration proposals-in fact, he cautiously supported private Social Security accounts while warning the government not to finance them through massive borrowing, the exact same type of guarded support that some moderate Democrats have given to the Bush plan. Greenspan has made similar statements in the past, most notably in testimony he made during the Clinton administration supporting various Clinton fiscal policies. This time, however, he chose to encourage movement on these sensitive issues at the very same time that Democratic congressmen seek to slow the lawmaking process and prevent the Republican majority from accomplishing much of anything. Greenspan’s true sin was exposing a desire for inaction-for a maintaining of the status quo, on the part of the Democratic leadership, who seek to grind Congress to a halt until mid-term elections. Ever since the younger Bush’s election, the “Maestro” image of Greenspan has become pass?, and revisionist bashing has become all the rage. With Greenspan serving a lame-duck term as he plans his retirement, he is an easy target for the frustrations of the left, as his position prevents him from defending himself.
There is not enough room here to debate Greenspan’s performance as Fed chairman, but one thing is clear-over his five terms, he has received nearly universal praise for acting as the face of American economic policy as the U.S. economy enjoyed record economic and productivity growth amid extremely low inflation. The credit for these accomplishments should not fall entirely on Greenspan, but one should not fail to acknowledge his work. Given his performance in this critical role, and his salary (approximately $172,000 per year, comparable to that of a minor television performer), one could easily say that he is the most underpaid working actor in the country. Give the man a break.

Steve Viola