No one was surprised to see Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke recommended for another term by the Senate Banking Committee today. But I imagine some people were surprised to see Time magazine name Bernanke the 2009 Person of the Year:
So here he is inside his marble fortress, a technocrat in an ink-stained shirt and an off-the-rack suit, explaining what he’s done, where we are and what might happen next.
He knows that the economy is awful, that 10% unemployment is much too high, that Wall Street bankers are greedy ingrates, that Main Street still hurts. Banks are handing out sweet bonuses again but still aren’t doing much lending. Technically, the recession is over, but growth has been anemic and heavily reliant on government programs like Cash for Clunkers, not to mention cheap Fed money. “I understand why people are frustrated. I’m frustrated too,” Bernanke says. “I’m not one of those people who look at this as some kind of video game. I come from Main Street, from a small town that’s really depressed. This is all very real to me.”
But Bernanke also knows the economy would be much, much worse if the Fed had not taken such extreme measures to stop the panic. There’s a vast difference between 10% and 25% unemployment, between anemic and negative growth. He wishes Americans understood that he helped save the irresponsible giants of Wall Street only to protect ordinary folks on Main Street. He knows better than anyone how financial crises spiral into global disasters, how the grass gets crushed when elephants fall. “We came very, very close to a depression ... The markets were in anaphylactic shock,” he told TIME during one of three extended interviews. “I’m not happy with where we are, but it’s a lot better than where we could be.”
As I’ve mentioned many times before, Bernanke is Jewish and was a favorite target of anti-Semites certain that the global financial crisis was a Jewish conspiracy.
Though his middle name is Shalom, Bernanke doesn’t broadcast his Jewishness. This 2008 New Yorker profile mentions “Jewish” once. But he is, apparently, proud of the heritage, and has been since growing up among a sea of Christians in South Carolina.