No pivot to the center for President Biden
President Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain has a, shall we say, interesting take on last week’s election. The voters who chose Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor of Virginia and who came close to unseating incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy as governor of New Jersey want Democrats to “do more,” Klain told MSNBC. “And that’s what we’re doing,” he continued, “again, starting next Monday, signing the infrastructure bill, working with the House to pass the Build Back Better plan, which will help bring down inflation, bring down the cost of living, bring down people’s expenses.”
Leave aside the highly questionable claim that the “Build Back Better” legislation under negotiation on Capitol Hill will reduce inflation. Focus instead on Klain’s idea that the message of the off-year election wasn’t for Democrats in Washington to slam the brakes, but to hit the gas pedal. Klain is paid to put the best possible spin on the Biden administration’s depressing combination of incompetence and aloofness. Yet even he must recognize that the president and the national Democratic Party have become too closely identified in the minds of voters with the progressive left and its lack of constructive solutions to inflation, crime, the border, and education. Rather than double down on his bid for a “transformational” presidency, Biden has a chance to narrow his focus, prioritize, and address the issues of most concern to the suburban independents who next year will decide the fate of the House and Senate. It’s an opportunity he’s not taking.
Allow me to introduce, for example, Saule Omarova, the Beth and Marc Goldberg professor at Cornell Law School and senior fellow at the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles. On the very day that voters across the country rejected the Democratic Party’s turn to the left, the White House officially nominated Professor Omarova to be comptroller of the currency. The comptroller is the nation’s chief banking regulator, supervising some 1,200 financial institutions of all shapes and sizes and, according to its website, “approximately 70 percent of banking activity in the country.” To hear the word comptroller is to picture a faceless bureaucrat, dutifully and routinely checking boxes to ensure the steady flow of capital in the economy. And yet President Biden wants to fill it with an activist intellectual who is—and I say this in the kindest way possible—a nut.
Omarova was born in Kazakhstan in 1966. She immigrated to America during her mid-20s. Senator Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), an early opponent of her nomination, has requested that she provide a copy of a thesis she wrote at Moscow State University, which she attended thanks to the Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship. The thesis is titled “Karl Marx’s Economic Analysis and the Theory of Revolution in Das Kapital.” Given the place (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and circumstances (Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika) in which Omarova attended college, it’s reasonable to conclude that she adopted a favorable, if maybe slightly qualified, attitude toward both Marx and revolution. Then again, we can’t really say. Omarova has kept the paper to herself.
Toomey’s interest in Omarova’s intellectual background has led a few of her supporters to accuse him of bigotry and xenophobia. The charge is ridiculous. Toomey isn’t worried about the professor’s ancestry or country of origin. He’s opposed to her ideas. What’s striking is that immigrants from the former Soviet Union and its satellites tend to be viscerally anti-communist and anti-socialist: Having lived under totalitarian regimes, they are especially attuned to infringements of personal and economic liberty and are mindful of human-rights abuses conducted in the name of “People’s Republics.”
Professor Omarova didn’t get the memo. “Say what you will about old USSR,” she tweeted on March 31, 2019, “there was no gender pay gap there. Market doesn’t always ‘know best.'” Well, one can say a lot about “old USSR”—how it was a force for oppression and evil, for starters. To single out the fact that “there was no gender pay gap”—an assertion Omarova never backed up, probably because the pay gap is zero in the gulag—is to recall the old fellow-traveler line that Communist tyranny isn’t so bad because Cubans have “health care.”
When another Twitter user suggested Omarova might be out of her depth, she replied:
I never claimed women and men were treated absolutely equally in every facet of Soviet life. But people’s salaries were set (by the state) in a gender-blind manner. And all women got very generous maternity benefits. Both things are still a pipe dream in our society!
This is Joe Biden’s nominee for comptroller?
Toomey is not the only senator whose eyebrow is raised. Jon Tester of Montana, a Democrat, is also concerned. It’s not hard to see why. There is a connection between Omarova’s rosy view of the Soviet economy and her far-out plans for the United States.
Consider her 2020 paper, “The People’s Ledger: How to Democratize Money and Finance the Economy.” It offers, she says, “a blueprint for a comprehensive restructuring of the central bank balance sheet as the basis for redesigning the core architecture of modern finance.” She would like to subject the Federal Reserve, which these days has enough trouble keeping inflation in check, to a “series of structural reforms that would radically redefine the role of a central bank as the ultimate public platform for generating, modulating, and allocating financial resources in a democratic economy—the People’s Ledger.”
Like utopian socialists of old, Omarova “envisions the complete migration of demand deposit accounts to the Fed’s balance sheet.” She proposes a “comprehensive qualitative restructuring of the Fed’s investment portfolio, which would maximize its capacity to channel credit to productive uses in the nation’s economy.” Guess who gets to decide which uses are productive.
The result, Omarova concludes, would be a financial system that is “less complex” than it is today. Which I suppose is true, since a government monopoly is “less complex” than market competition. It also tends to be less efficient, less productive, less innovative, and less accountable to consumer demand. But hey—maternity benefits!
Anyone not immersed in and comfortable with the recondite buzzwords of the legal academy and radical left might read “The People’s Ledger” in mounting confusion and alarm as Omarova proclaims the virtues of wage and price controls, politicized credit, and expert control and planning of the commanding heights. It doesn’t take long for the paper to get into “the seas will be made of lemonade” territory, portraying for an economy of 330 million people integrated in a global economy of 8 billion a grandiose and completely unworkable “system” that is so rationalist and reductive it only could exist in the mind of an intellectual.
Since January, America has slowly awakened to the reality that it elected Joe Biden president only to be governed by Elizabeth Warren. As voters watched academic fashions spread destruction in classrooms, on the border, and in cities, they turned against the president and Democrats in general. Isn’t it in President Biden’s political interest—much less the country’s—to pull Saule Omarova’s nomination and recommend someone else, someone boring, for the job? And if the White House persists in its support for the good professor, can’t we agree that its tone-deafness and general wackiness has put it on a direct course for an electoral shellacking? In America, thank God, Omarova doesn’t rule. The people do.