Fair. Balanced. American.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Here's the counterargument

To yesterday's Wall Street Journal piece that argues Obama is a micromanager--shades of Jimmy Carter. Noam Schriber:

So, to summarize, we have Obama weighing in on derivatives regulation, the stimulus, the structure of the banking industry, and executive pay--arguably four of the five most important economic issues facing the administration (the fifth being what to do about failing banks). If you can't wade into these issues without being labeled a micromanager, I'm not sure what's left....

If I had to guess, I'd say what happened is that the Journal found itself with a nice story about the way Obama makes decisions, but that it seemed too positive. As the piece itself notes: "Unavoidably, the accounts all come from people who admire Mr. Obama, not from his critics, who aren't privy to such sessions." The "micromanager" frame was presumably added somewhere along the way to correct for this problem and make the piece seem more even-handed.

For what it's worth, I can sympathize with the impulse--you do worry about being too puffy when writing about a president who has lots of admirable qualities. But, if that was your concern, maybe the solution was to avoid writing a piece about this particular admirable quality, not obscuring it with some rhetorical misdirection. The cure in this case seems a lot worse than the disease.

Here, however, is a spot-on critique from the original article:

Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, says Mr. Obama has taken some "very big bites of the apple" on issues like health insurance and financial regulation. But, facing a choice between his vision and making a deal, Mr. Obama has tended to choose the latter, Mr. Baker says. "He's thinking big but being cautious."

Next: a picture of what it looks like to have a smart president. Can you think of a recent president, including Bill, who would have slapped economics professors around like this?

On July 1, advisers gave Mr. Obama a briefing on "House Prices, Consumer Debt and Consumption." Among their charts was one showing how homeowners during the boom used the rising value of their houses to borrow more against them. At the end, the president pushed the presentation aside. "Guys, this is great research," he said, according to Mr. Emanuel. "But you're telling me that people have been using their houses as ATMs. I could have told you that."

Finally, this is not promising at all:

Mr. Summers organizes the meetings, usually picks the topic, and sometimes acts as a devil's advocate. "I often take the role of making sure that discussions in the daily briefing incorporate views not in the room," says Mr. Summers, a former Clinton administration Treasury secretary. Aides say Mr. Obama often questions the "dominant proposal" under consideration and asks to be briefed on proposals that he and his team don't support.

Larry Summers may be smart, but he's a boor. I yet to see any evidence that he would present opposing viewpoints fairly or give them the weight they deserve. The proof is the nearly categorical exclusion of progressive economists from Obama's economic team, including former Obama campaign advisor (and longtime Summers enemy) Joseph Stiglitz. While this may leave Stiglitz with the freedom to tell the truth, it's very bad news for taxpayers... and great news for Wall Street swindlers.

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