First, let't look at what the president said, as reported by Fox News:
"I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress," Obama said. "And I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I'm pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step."But exactly how does the president intimidate the Supreme Court? The president can't do anything to the Supreme Court if it displeases him. Supreme Court Justices have lifetime tenure. Do the critics worry that Justice Kennedy or Roberts would change their votes because they didn't want to disagree with the president? Whether or not the president opined on the subject, could the Justices have any doubt about what the president's views are? The president's solicitor general did have three days to make the president's case directly to the Supreme Court, rather than to reporters in the Rose Garden.
But the talk of intimidation did remind me of a much more egregious case back in September, when the Republican leadership sent a letter warning Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed governors not to engage in any more quantitative easing.
It is our understanding that the Board Members of the Federal Reserve will meet later this week to consider additional monetary stimulus proposals. We write to express our reservations about any such measures. Respectfully, we submit that the board should resist further extraordinary intervention in the U.S. economy, particularly without a clear articulation of the goals of such a policy, direction for success, ample data proving a case for economic action and quantifiable benefits to the American people.Ezra Klein of the Washington Post summarized the message as "Nice central bank you got here. Shame if something should happen to it." This is real intimidation. Congress can legislate limits on the Fed's autonomy and hold up confirmation of appointees to the Board of Governors. Fed governors do not have lifetime tenure. They must routinely testify before Congressional committees. The Republican leaders' warning had real teeth.
And there's also one more meaningful difference between the two episodes. Messrs. McConnell, Boehner, Kyl, and Cantor are professional pols with no training in economics or monetary policy. They have no business lecturing Ben Bernanke, a distinguished scholar with a fabulous reputation in the profession, on economics. Barack Obama taught constitutional law at University of Chicago, one of the best law schools in the country.
Follow me on twitter.