Fed pick may be another Bush curve


WASHINGTON - Forget Rodrigo Lopez or Livan Hernandez. It seems the best curveball in the Washington area belongs to President Bush.

In a town where prophecy and prediction rival the Ravens and Redskins, everyone loves the sport of being right, especially when it involves the president. The speculation game du jour currently centers on a successor for Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who is retiring at the end of the year. Among the possibilities: Harvard economic guru Martin S. Feldstein; Columbia University economics professor R. Glenn Hubbard; Ben S. Bernanke, a member of the Fed's Board of Governors; and Larry Lindsey, the former White House National Economic Council director.

My guess is that the candidate ultimately announced will not be one of them. I don't have special expertise or interest in the Federal Reserve chairmanship. I merely recognize the significance that it's Mr. Bush who is pitching this game. Repeatedly, he has demonstrated great ability to surprise the Washington culture and prove that maybe the "experts" and "insiders" in this town aren't quite as smart as they think they are.

The nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. for the Supreme Court is a perfect example of this. Know-it-alls throughout the capital pompously declared that the president's pick definitely would be among a group of five jurists, most of whom were named Edith. Judge Roberts wasn't on that list.

Yet it became clear very quickly that Judge Roberts was the best pick. This seems to be the consensus because after a few weeks of digging and searching, no one can seem to find anything bad to say about the guy other than his scandalous affiliation with the evil Federalist Society. In this partisan tide of red vs. blue, good vs. evil and Peter G. Angelos vs. the world, that's quite a feat and quite a victory. And once again, Mr. Bush has shown that his curveball often turns out to be the perfect pitch.

Not that shaking things up is new for this president. Remember all the wonderfully accurate predictions by the so-called experts shortly after Mr. Bush was elected to a second term? Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would be the first member of the Cabinet to go, it was said. His replacement would be either Sen. John McCain of Arizona or Condoleezza Rice. John W. Snow was also on the outs at Treasury, with Steve Forbes or Phil Gramm to replace him.

Ms. Rice also was mentioned as a possibility at the State Department, but former Sen. John C. Danforth of Missouri was the real frontrunner there for sure. Right? Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson was going to be the next attorney general. Alberto R. Gonzales didn't have a chance because he was definitely going to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy, which was coming with the certain retirement of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. A trifecta of accuracy there.

The Federal Reserve chairmanship may end up like the vice presidential search, with the lead searcher, Allan Hubbard, a close friend of Mr. Bush's and director of the National Economic Council, getting the nod.

More than his ability to surprise the Washington establishment (something I'm sure Mr. Bush and his team take a small amount of pleasure in doing), the president's choices reflect something much more important - a keen ability to be a creative thinker, an out-of-the-box thinker and, most important, an independent thinker.

That's the sign of someone with strong character, strong resolve and strong judgment. And that's the sign of a strong leader.

Brian C. Jones, who has been a writer for members of Congress and for President Bush, is a lawyer who lives in Washington.

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