Thursday, August 9, 2007

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The advisor or the candidate?

Max Sawicky complains that the economists who were at YearlyKos -- and advising presidential candidates -- were not progressive enough. This fact makes Bruce Bartlett sleep easier at night:

[T]hese guys may be liberal by conventional political definitions, but they are hardly men of the left. [Max] finds this dispiriting; I find it reassuring. It means there is a chance that the Democrats may nominate someone I might possibly be able to vote for. I don't know Goolsbee, but he has an excellent reputation among economists. I know Bob and Gene and would anticipate that if they have anything to say about it, the next Democratic presidency will be a rerun of the Clinton Administration on economics--free trade oriented, fiscally conservative, pragmatic.

Frankly, this sounds good to me. I think we need a few years of sober economic management that is grounded in the real world. This used to be what the Republican Party stood for.

All well and good, but then we get to what the Democratic candidates themselves are saying. Over at Capital Commerce, James Pethokoukis summarizes the more inane comments that were made at Monday's debate. Let's just say I'm not as reassured as Bartlett.

Now, as Ezra Klein points out, the Republicans are hardly immune to uttering economic inanities. Nonetheless, the disconnect between who politicians get as advisors and what they say themselves prompts a question: when picking a presidential candidate, should you go by what they say or what their advisors think?

posted by Dan on 08.09.07 at 01:25 PM


Analysis from the point of view of a monarchical plutocracy is bound to render most views as leftist.

We have a long way to go to get back to the center.

posted by: Condor on 08.09.07 at 01:25 PM [permalink]

You tell me....

Candidate George Bush: "I will have a humble foreign policy"

Foreign policy advisors: Cheney, Perle, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Rumsfeld, etc.

Even before the 2000 election, Bush's advisors except for Rice and Powell were largely neocons or other hawks. On that basis, I voted against Bush on foreign policy grounds (in addition to domestic policy reasons) while many of my IR-prof friends voted *for* him based on his platitudes. I wish I'd put money as well as my vote on that prediction.

Look at a candidate's behind-the-scenes advisors and you're likely to learn a lot more about their policy preferences than from throw-away soundbites. You'd think someone with Dan's background would be more familiar with the notion of "cheap talk".

posted by: on 08.09.07 at 01:25 PM [permalink]

I don't think you can mix one part quotes from candidates asked to explain their views on a complex subject in 60 seconds on a stage with 8 other people, and one part some online columnist on deadline trying to show how smart he is, and come up with a clear idea of where the candidates are on economic policy. Or on any number of other things.

Look, it isn't that hard to figure out whether a candidate knows what he is talking about with respect to a particular issue. It's a little harder to discern whether he has really thought about the subject or has only memorized talking points, but it can still be done -- probably not if a debate transcript is one's only source, but still. The question voters have to answer is how much they care.

Dan cares very much about trade liberlaization for philosophical reasons. So do I. Most voters don't, so there you are. One can infer something about the depth of a candidate like Biden or Dodd on this issue from their public records, which stretch back decades. With the others it's harder unless they are addressing something specific -- whether to ratify this trade agreement, whether to go back on that one. And after this one would need to know how much they would delegate important trade-related questions if elected President. George Bush for example brought a level of ignorance to trade comparable to what he brought to most other policy areas, but in practice he left negotiation of trade agreements in his first term to the highly proficient Robert Zoellick. Do we know if Richardson would do that as President, or Edwards, or Clinton?

As I say, it should be possible to find this out. People just have to decide how much they care about this information.

posted by: Zathras on 08.09.07 at 01:25 PM [permalink]

What? Political candidates caught pandering to their audience? I'm shocked -- shocked, I say!

The funniest and probably most telling part of the Dems appearance at the nutroots convention was how they all talked up how tough they were because they went toe-to-toe with Bill O'Reilly. That's what this country needs -- a president who isn't afraid of Fox News!

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 08.09.07 at 01:25 PM [permalink]

I do know Austan Goolsbee although I haven't spoken to him in awhile. He's a good guy with professional integrity. Even when I disagree with his positions, I feel he holds them honestly and not to further any ambitions for a position in a future administration.

posted by: CRW on 08.09.07 at 01:25 PM [permalink]

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