Monday, March 10, 2008

Goolsbee-gate and Obama's heel

"I think Austan innocently went over there, half as a professor, half as a campaign adviser," said Obama campaign manager David Axelrod. "He's basically a volunteer. He's one of the economists Barack talks to. He's not in close and constant contact with the candidate." (source)

It is undeniable that Goolsbee has been a decisive influence in pre NAFTA-repudiation Obanomics, from health to the environment. It's something akin to a born-again miracle to see the former most-liberal Senator speak econ sense (relative to the other candidates, at least). In fact, as much as one shouldn't vote for advisers, whose job security is not exactly awe-inspiring, I would bet most pro-Obama economists really are pro-Goolsbee-behind-Obama groupies.

That this distancing is worrisome to such a crowd denotes one distinguishing characteristic of Obama's campaign: his main personal asset is his charisma and the credibility this gives to his promise to do things "differently," in particular to listen to other voices, rather than the content that comes directly from him. The complement, running in parallel to the touching speeches, are the interesting proposals in econ and foreign policy which can be traced to his advisers. More than the other candidates, Obama is a moderator of and a conduit for good ideas.

And that, I think, is the crux: if Goolsbee is set aside, who will walk in to provide the econ context behind the charisma? Specially when this distancing is the result of and part of playing politics the "old fashioned way."

In terms of the information content we can derive from Obama's campaign, we've suffered a double loss: a shift of expectations towards damaging populism plus increased uncertainty around this new position.

Let's hope that this is all temporary, a "keep your head low while it dies away," that Goolsbee comes back or is quickly replaced by an economist of similar caliber. Fingers, be crossed.

p.s. I once went to an Obama-event, a small-scale affair way back then, way before the primaries. I was not impressed: his speech was given with his usual skill and passion, sure, but perhaps because I've lived most of my life in a developing country, I'm turned off, not on, by pretty speeches lacking content. I know, I know: this country now needs a unifier; but this country also needs a leader who can process facts and act based on sound analysis (whether his/her own or wisely picked from others). So the kind of things that sparked my interest in this campaign are articles like this one (what turns it off are articles like this one). I guess this makes me particularly sensitive to events that reduce the content behind this particular campaign.

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