Ben Bernanke does a Jack Nicholson on Capitol Hill
Remember Jack Nicholson's famous line in "A Few Good Men"?
"You can't handle the truth!"
Well, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke went all Jack on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. As Times reporters Jim Puzzanghera and Don Lee wrote:
In two hours before Congress' Joint Economic Committee, Bernanke painted a gloomy picture of the economic recovery, describing it as "close to faltering." He predicted there would be no quick pickup in new jobs and again urged lawmakers to come up with a credible plan to deal with federal deficits.
Gee, Ben, way to fire up the troops!
Aren't our elected officials supposed to tell us that the good times are just around the corner?
[Updated 11:35 a.m.: As numerous sharp-eyed commenters have pointed out, the Fed chairman is appointed, not elected. So let's just say it this way: Aren't these guys supposed to tell us that the good times are just around the corner?]
But, like Nicholson's Col. Nathan Jessep, Bernanke was just getting started:
His frustrations emerged more sharply and vividly than in the past. He empathized with anti-Wall Street protesters who, in marches in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere, have been blaming big financial institutions, including the Fed, for the economy's woes.
"Very generally, I think people are quite unhappy with the state of the economy and what's happening," he said. "They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess and they're dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington.
"On some level I can't blame them," he said. "Like everyone else, I'm dissatisfied with what the economy is doing right now."
Which is nice, really, when a government official is as dissatisfied as the rest of us.
Of course, Ben has a job. And he makes $191,300 a year. Which probably makes him a little less dissatisfied than most.
On the other hand, you and I don't have to deal with questioning from dopey congressmen on such things as whether the central bank's low-interest-rate policies are encouraging excessive government borrowing (South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney) or how to address the downtrodden real estate market (Irvine Republican Rep. John Campbell).
How about "I don't care" and "I don't know"?
Not to mention Greece. You wouldn't think the home of Plato, Socrates and Archimedes could cause so much trouble (although there was that little kerfuffle over Helen and that prince from Troy):
In his congressional appearance, Bernanke noted that the European debt crisis has been "a significant source of stress in global financial markets."
U.S. banks do not have a large direct exposure to debt from troubled nations such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland, he said, but a disorderly default by any country in the Euro zone would cause "a huge amount of financial volatility globally," damaging the U.S. economy.
But Bernanke's a problem solver. He's well educated. He's experienced. He's blunt.
Here's his measured opinion:
"So it's a very, very serious risk if that there were to happen," he said. "And that's why it's extremely important that the Europeans continue along the lines that they have been on, which is to try to address that situation."
Well, OK, so much for Ben the straight talker. Apparently, Congress can only handle so much truth.
But one thing's for sure: Bernanke's appearance Tuesday should put to rest those Republican accusations that he's an Obama homer.
Photo: Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images