Enough Blame To Go Around
I fully endorse the theme behind Ryan Grim's Huffington Post article this afternoon, which posits that Obama's political team has overstated the public's concerns over deficits, thereby endangering the recovery and Democratic political prospects. My only disagreement with Grim is in his assertion that this problem starts and stops with Obama's political team, and that Obama's economic team is blameless here.
As Grim notes, polls have consistently shown that the public cares about jobs above all else. Other priorities, whether it be deficits and debt, climate change, energy policy, even health care reform, fall by the wayside with the public as long as the economy is in a near-depression. The public's concerns about China and American supremacy are also understandable in this environment. Yet this White House's political team has consistently misread and overreacted to the "Tea Party" movement, which itself isn't a widely-popular movement but simply a repackaging and rebranding of far right extremism from the Bush years.
However, it would be inaccurate for Grim and others to let Obama and his economic team off the hook here. It was Obama who was talking up entitlement reform when there was no public outcry for Social Security and Medicare cuts. And it was his economic team who set the stimulus package at $775 billion for political reasons and not economic reasons during the transition, at a time when senators as divergent as Tom Harkin and Kent Conrad both argued for the strongest stimulus package possible. Yet Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and Ben Bernanke wanted something well short of $1 trillion even though a wide range of political economists such as Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Larry Lindsey, and even McCain's economic advisor advocated going large.
I am not surprised that David Axelrod and the rest of the Chicago team are pushing deficit reduction, because all they care about is Obama and his legacy. They were the ones who wanted to push health care reform over financial reform and a strong jobs package, but they were also the ones who put bipartisanship ahead of reality. This team is more concerned about Obama's place in history than they are about progressive leadership and the Democratic Party. But it is wrong to let Summers, Geithner, and Bernanke off the hook for the lame stimulus and eventual double-dip recession, because Barack Obama and his team own it as well.