A Diamond in the rough

A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH…. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby (R) has refused to allow a vote on Peter Diamond’s nomination to the board of governors of the Federal Reserve. As far as the conservative lawmaker is concerned, MIT’s Diamond, among the most accomplished economists of his generation, lacks the necessary qualifications.

Yesterday, Diamond won a Nobel Prize in economics, which in turn made Shelby look even more foolish, and created an opportunity for the White House.

“Obstructing a nominee as well qualified as Peter in a time of economic crisis is a harmful attempt to score political points that hurts our middle class and our broader economic recovery,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.

Mr. Obama issued a separate statement congratulating Mr. Diamond and pointing out his expertise in unemployment and housing. “I hope he will be confirmed by the Senate as quickly as possible,” Mr. Obama said.

Even now, that appears exceedingly unlikely. In a statement, Shelby said he just doesn’t care: “While the Nobel Prize for Economics is a significant recognition, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences does not determine who is qualified to serve on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.”

That’s true, of course; the Nobel committee is not responsible for determining who’s qualified to serve. But it’s worth emphasizing a little detail Shelby may have forgotten — that responsibility rests with the U.S. Senate, not one conservative member.

Diamond’s nomination has been pending since April, and in case Shelby’s forgotten, we’re facing some difficult economic times and could use a functioning Fed. The nomination has cleared committee, is ready for a floor vote, and if Shelby opposes Diamond, he can vote against him.

But in 2010, that’s no longer good enough. Shelby has decided one of the nation’s most accomplished economists, a celebrated expert in employment policy, not only failed to earn his support, but is so offensive to Shelby’s far-right sensibilities that he’s forbidding the Senate from voting at all.

This is no way to run a country.