White House economics adviser Larry Summers is considered something of a meeting room rhinoceros, a fiercely aggressive debater unafraid of charging at his opponents and goring their points with aplomb. But as Ryan Lizza revealed in his New Yorker profile of Obama's economics team last week, the rhino is really looking for repartee:
"Larry was an outstanding debater, and an outstanding debater is someone who thinks of a question from both sides." He added, "Larry does sometimes interact with people in a debating format, and expects them to reciprocate and to be able to engage in an intellectual tennis match."
Actually, The New Republic's Noam Scheiber writes, he likes engaging in literal tennis, too.
But it turns out he doesn't like rallies as much as Lizza suggests. In a piece on the White House economics team's tennis prowess, Scheiber says Summers relies on a cannon-like serve and ballistic missile of a forehand -- "the shorter the rally the better." Think Andy Roddick, but a less gracious loser.
The real surprise of the piece is Tim Geithner, whose on-camera sheepishness belies a tennis game stocked with overhead smashes. Although this detail -- " the sight of his five-foot-eight-inch frame almost dares an opponent to lob him" -- certainly seems like a good metaphor for his beleaguered first few months on the job.
But ultimately the piece is a good reminder of how outside appearances of intense rivalry don't always seem that way from the inside:
The members of the economic team are close confidants. They spend evenings at tennis camp discussing children and career moves ... Conventional wisdom aside, the men aren't enemies or frenemies or even rivals. They're more like ... frivals."