Is it just me, or does Larry Summers damn his boss with faint praise?

“When I’ve heard him talk about economic issues–with the exception of
NAFTA, where I just hope he doesn’t believe what he says–he seems
intelligent and serious. I wouldn’t say I’m bowled over by the
brilliance of anything I’ve heard, but everything has a kind of
thoughtfulness to it that’s sort of impressive.”

Let me put it this way: If Summers put these sentences into a letter of recommendation for a job market candidate, he probably couldn’t get an interview, much less a job.

I suppose that Obama’s defenders might hail his willingness to employ non-sycophants like Summers.  And I guess that Summers might say that he’s happy to raise the probability that this “intelligent and serious” leader will act as if he were brilliant.  But both of these observations strike me as the flip side of sour grapes: Since this is what we’ve got, it must be pretty good.  Isn’t “Even his top economic advisor doesn’t think much of him, so he’s probably a borderline economic illiterate” the more reasonable lesson to draw?

HT: Mankiw