In naming a new Federal Reserve Board chairman, President Bush went with the consensus choice and the betting favorite, Ben Bernanke.
Bernanke, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is in the president's outer circle of aides, close enough so Bush feels comfortable with him but not so close the appointment smacks of cronyism.
The choice of Bernanke, who comes to the job with abundant credentials, avoids another confirmation fight that might have been the case with a more ideological nominee, and the Senate should act with dispatch to confirm him. His four-year term is to start Feb. 1.
With the president at his side, Bernanke offered this reassurance: "my first priority will be to maintain continuity with the policies and policy strategies established during the (Alan) Greenspan years."
The importance of the Fed chief cannot be understated. Said the respected magazine The Economist, "This is the most important economic policy job in America — indeed in the whole world."
The Fed chief is basically the world's central banker, charged with setting interest rates, controlling inflation and determining the value of the dollar, the closest thing to a global currency, in the world's largest economy. While the job is politically independent, it is important that the holder does not have a tin ear for politics.
And he is replacing a legend in Greenspan, the Fed chairman for 18 years, who, Bush said, "dominated his age like no other central banker in history." The differences in the two chairs, at least at the outset, seem to be mostly matters of style.
Greenspan was famous for his opaque and Delphic testimony before Congress. He would not let himself be trapped into saying something that would rattle the markets. As for Bernanke, Bush said in perhaps a gentle dig at Greenspan, "His speeches were widely admired for their keen insight and clear, simple language." That would be a nice change.