Simon Johnson's nomination of Paul Krugman as Federal Reserve chairman is a great idea, if only because the cantankerous Nobel Prize winner's first appearance before a confirmation hearing would make riveting television. I would like nothing better than to watch Krugman face down the partisan questioning of Alabama's Richard Shelby or Arizona's Jon Kyl with the imperious rage we know so well from his columns and blog posts.
Krugman doesn't suffer fools gladly, and there are a lot of fools on the Senate Banking and Finance Committee. It would be a match made in heaven. No more cautious equivocation, a la Geithner or Bernanke. No more quisling accommodation to Wall Street. Paul Krugman would take seriously the Fed's responsibility to address unemployment, and would do everything in his power to push progressive goals.
Of course, that's supposing he ever got past his confirmation hearing, which is a prospect that even he calls "crazy." For a decade, Paul Krugman has been a unrepentant partisan warrior. He's said many many very hurtful things about Republicans over the years. Nominating him would guarantee a Republican filibuster that might even garner a few Democratic votes -- because Krugman is considerably to left of a significant number of Democratic senators.
Simon Johnson is a smart guy, but he's dreaming if he thinks that Krugman would ever be confirmed in today's political climate. So is there a case for doing it anyway, just for the filibuster fireworks? Is this where Obama should draw the line?
Would Krugman be opposed by the Republicans? Yes, potentially. And there could be quite a fight in the Senate -- entirely of the Republicans making. But if they oppose his appointment -- despite his qualifications and in the face of our weak economy -- what signal would that send about their priorities?
Potentially? That's disingenuous. We know exactly what Republican priorities are: To prevent Obama from accomplishing anything. Appointing Krugman would play right into GOP hands -- kicking off a political fight that Obama would have no chance of winning. Even if progressives were inspired in the short term by an all-out political battle, in the end, nothing concrete would be accomplished, other than making the president look ineffective and weak.
Far better to keep Krugman where he is, but start actually fighting for financial reform legislation in a such a way as to gain his full-throated approval. That would be inspiring.