Americans are infuriated at Wall Street's greed after huge taxpayer bailouts, and at the slow pace of economic recovery for Main Street. But a return to job growth will be all the more halting if Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is not confirmed.
Last week, after a handful of jittery Democrats joined some Republicans in suggesting Bernanke shouldn't be reconfirmed when his term expires Sunday, the stockmarket had its worst three-day loss in equities in 10 months. The market rebounded only after reports that Bernanke probably has the 60 Senate votes he needs.
There are plenty of stones that can be thrown in Bernanke's direction for his approach to monetary policy and bank supervision before the September 2008 financial crisis. After being appointed in 2006 by President George W. Bush, Bernanke essentially followed the lead of his predecessor Alan Greenspan, a hands-off regulator. Greenspan, and then Bernanke, failed to act as the housing bubble expanded in unsustainable ways due to cheap money and Wall Street's voracious appetite for mortgage-backed securities.
But Bernanke, a student of the Great Depression, has been the right man to respond to a nation on the brink of another one. His actions in the depths of the worst financial meltdown in 75 years salvaged the American economy and maybe the world's.
When one is looking at history it is hard to know what might have been. But Bernanke took extraordinary steps to forestall a death spiral after the credit markets froze. He pushed trillions of new dollars into the economy, cut interest rates to nearly zero and worked closely with the Bush administration and later the Obama administration to rescue American Insurance Group and other failing private companies.
Rather than sit on the sidelines and consult old rules, Bernanke responded nimbly and forcefully, making his own rules as needed to get credit moving again. He appears to be a vigilant regulator now, newly attuned to systemic risk, and should be confirmed.