By Ros Krasny
The Federal Reserve Chairman, architect of unconventional policies to shore up the shaky U.S. economy, came under attack at the Bloomberg/The Washington Post Republican Presidential Debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire on Tuesday night.
And unlike the eight candidates, who had the chance for a rebuttal any time their name was mentioned, the criticisms of Bernanke were left to stand.
Newt Gingrich led the charge. Asked if the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement had a valid grievance about income inequality and the out-sized influence of big banks, the former House speaker pivoted:
"If they want to really change things, the first person to fire is Bernanke, who is a disastrous chairman of the Federal Reserve," said Gingrich.
"Bernanke has in secret spent hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out one group and not bailing out another group. I think it is corrupt and it is wrong for one man to have that kind of secret power."
Bernanke, a former Princeton professor, was appointed to lead the Fed by Republican President George W. Bush -- he also served as chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers for a time -- and was reappointed by Democrat Barack Obama in 2009. His term as chairman ends in January 2014.
"I wouldn't keep Bernanke in office. I would choose someone of my own," said Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, who did not include Bernanke when doling out praise to Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for pulling the financial system back from the precipice in late 2008.
For Congressman Ron Paul, needling the Fed has been a decades-long endeavor spanning various leaders.
Paul termed Bernanke's predecessor, Alan Greenspan "a disaster" because of policies that fueled investment bubbles such as the early 2000s Internet stock boom and bust.
"Bernanke compounds the problem," Paul said. "He's inflating twice as fast as Greenspan was."
Herman Cain, the Godfather's Pizza magnate, drew a distinction between the good Fed of yore, when he served on the board of the Kansas City Fed in the 1990s, and the bad Bernanke version.
"I don't agree with the actions of this Federal Reserve. I don't agree with the actions that have been undertaken by Ben Bernanke," said Cain, who said he had some good chairman candidates in mind.
Ironically, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who got the ball rolling on Fed bashing in August by suggesting the mild-mannered Fed chief might not want to venture down to the Lone Star state, left the attacks to his rivals.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny, Editing by Sandra Maler)