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Why Larry Summers Decided To Leave D.C.; Or, Harvard Won't Wait Forever

Larry Summers Speaks On U.S. Economic Crisis

Larry Summers participates in a question-and-answer session during a luncheon with the Economic Club of Washington, in April, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There has been a lot of speculation about why Larry Summers, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council, has decided to leave the White House at the end of 2010.

If the Democratic Party performs poorly in November, Summers may deserve — or get — some of the blame.

Floyd Norris reads the tea leaves — and the morning papers:

There is an exodus of economic officials from the Obama team, and they are mostly going out with hostile commentary. The economy is not booming, and the president's poll numbers are poor.

Ezra Klein suggests the White House job wasn't a great fit for Summers:

The critique of Summers is very consistent, and it's really not about him or his vaunted arrogance. It's his position. Summers runs the National Economic Council, which is the body charged with coordinating the president's economic process. But Summers, for all his brilliance and charm, is not the guy you want running meetings and smoothing disagreements and making people feel included. Summers doesn't facilitate debates. He wins them. He wants to be the guy Obama listens to, not the guy who listens to everyone else, and to a large degree, he is.

The real reason might be more basic: Harvard University only lets its professors go on leave for two consecutive years.

According to The New York Times, "Mr. Summers, 55, said in a brief interview that he must return to his professorship at Harvard by January to keep his tenure."

Is that academic-speak for "I'm leaving public office to spend more time with my family"?

On his blog, Greg Mankiw, a Summers colleague in the Harvard University Department of Economics, explains:

Harvard allows two years of leave, and it has the reputation of enforcing the rule rather strictly. I can imagine that Larry could have negotiated an extra semester of leave, but I would have been surprised if the university had extended his leave much beyond that.

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