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August 09, 2011


To be sure, Drew Westen is wrong about many things: mischaracterizing FDR, falsely claiming that Bush's tax cuts went "largely to the wealthiest Americans" (actually about 20% goes to those in the top two brackets), claiming that better messaging would solve Obama's problems while ignoring some of that messaging that exactly fit Westen's prescriptions. But he got some things right:

Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.
It has to be said, however, that Westen's vision of how Obama ought to conduct his presidency seems oddly familiar.

On a different subject, perusal of the White House web site reveals a preoccupation with the underserved: underserved youth, underserved communities, underserved markets. (Careful editing is required here, lest "underserved" be mistyped as "undeserved," which is not at all the desired message.) If some communities are underserved, the implication is inescapable that other communities are overserved, or at the very least, served.

Many commentators expect Obama to run a negative campaign in 2012, blaming Republicans for the nation's troubles, but a positive theme is staring him right in the face: "Obama 2012--America, you've been served!"

James Taranto also has some useful comments about Weston's piece at the WSJ:


I continue to be surprised at some people's unawareness of the federal government's looming financial disaster. E.g. Yglesias has an analysis that's very sensible from a political POV, but he ends by implying that "some forceful central bank action" can prevent a double dip recession. What forceful action does he imagine would accomplish this? They've already driven interest rates down to nearly zero. The enormous ongoing deficit has caused a drop in the US debt rating with more drops threatened. Increased deficit spending would make this already intractable problem even more horrendous.

Nate Silver wrote:

the remaining proposals consist entirely of spending cuts while still reducing the debt significantly

In reality, the remaining proposals don't reduce the debt significantly; they let the debt keep increasing by over a trillion dollars a year.

I imagine Silver was merely writing carelessly. He no doubt meant that these proposals make the debt lower than it would be without these proposals. Still, he's missing the big point. The agreement to raise the debt ceiling was nowhere near adequate to satisfy the financial markets. Its inadequacy is what led S&P to reduce the federal government's credit rating. And, further drops are in the card without some unimaginable combination spending cuts and tax increases.

IMHO twelve months from now when the deficits are still running well over a trillion dollars a year, when inflation is rising, and when the stock market is still in the tank, nobody will remember who "won" the current debt limit battles. These battles will be seen as a fight over trivia.

For pure entertainment, it's hard to beat the Administration's push-back against the S&P downgrade. It seems the problem isn't the massive deficits, it's that S&P had the nerve to call attention to them. Suddenly we have some insight into how Obamacare intends to bend down the cost curve: if the x-rays are bad, retouch them!

Twitter's word limit results in some confusing posts. Brendan quotes Justin Wolfers brief comment:

"In my whole life I don't think I've ever seen the DC conventional wisdom as firmly at odds with standard textbook economics"

What alleged conventional wisdom is Wolfers talking about? What standard textbook economic principle is he alluding to? Does it relate to tax cuts? Stimulus spending? The risk of continuing multi-trillion dollar deficits? My impression is that these things are controversial among both DC insiders and economists, That is, I don't think there is a single CW nor a single standard textbook position on these questions.

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