WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made an unusual appearance at a military base in Texas on Thursday, disregarding threats that he could be treated “pretty ugly” in the Lone Star State.
The bookish policymaker and academic appeared at Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, Texas a mere three months after the state governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry invoked the specter of mob justice over his policies.
Perry, campaigning in the heartland state of Iowa in August, warned he would view attempts by Bernanke to boost the US economy before the November 2012 elections as “almost treasonous.”
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa — but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,” Perry told supporters at a backyard get-together.
At Thursday’s event, billed by the Fed as a “town hall meeting with soldiers and their families,” Bernanke spoke broadly about the state of the US economy and personal finance, before a room of uniformed personnel.
“You may be wondering why the chairman of the Federal Reserve would travel to Texas to speak at a military base,” he opened a little stiffly.
“I’m here because the men and women in military service, like all Americans, are profoundly affected by the economic challenges our nation has faced these past several years.”
“For a lot of people, I know, it doesn’t feel like the recession ever ended.”
Bernanke also tried to explain the Fed’s decision to pump money into the economy, which has transformed him into a hate figure for right-wing Americans — who accuse him of profligate spending that will result in hyper-inflation.
“That high unemployment rate is why the Federal Reserve is focusing its monetary policy at strengthening the recovery and job creation.”
“It is important to understand that this type of activity isn’t the same as government spending.”
Bernanke also offered advice for service members, many of whom are struggling to find jobs as they leave the armed forces.
“While you are in the military, take advantage of training opportunities,” he said, adding, “when you leave the military, take advantage of education benefits for veterans.”
The unemployment rate among Gulf War II veterans is 12.1 percent, well above the national average of 9.0 percent and above rates for veterans of other wars.
Appearing at a military base for the first time in his tenure, the Fed chairman took questions for 40 minutes that mostly related to difficulties in the housing market and Europe’s debt crisis.
The speech came a day before the United States marks Veterans’ Day, and in the end, passed off without incident.
That may have been because Perry was too busy to dole out justice himself, after a disastrous appearance in Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate on the economy.
For an agonizing 53 seconds, on live television Perry tried and failed to name the third of three major US government agencies that he hoped to abolish if he won the White House — forgetting a central part of his much-repeated stump speech.