Debating Obamanomics at America’s Future Now
By Bernie Horn
June 1, 2009 - 5:38pm ET
Let me give you just a taste of today’s opening plenary at the America’s Future Now conference in Washington, DC.
Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, set the stage by asking:
Are we supporting the President or are we pushing the President? The answer is “yes.”
John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress provided one reason to be patient in our support for Barack Obama. He noted that progressives often say we’re now in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. But because of the new global economy, the current recession is actually the most complex and far-reaching economic challenge in history.
He makes a good point. While the Depression was much worse, it was simpler to address. In the 1930s, international trade was tiny compared to today. There was virtually no “offshoring” of jobs. And the financial sector was relatively small and overwhelmingly local. Perhaps we should give the President a break.
Robert Kuttner, cofounder and coeditor of The American Prospect, apparently does not feel that way. He argued that President Obama isn’t doing enough. We need another large stimulus package in order to dig our way out of recession. We need to get at least as tough on the banks as we’ve been on car companies. Certainly at least a couple of the biggest banks are insolvent, and we should treat them as such. And shouldn’t the Administration take a leadership role for American workers by refusing to do business with companies that don’t obey labor laws or fail to pay a living wage?
Following Kuttner was Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist to Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff for the Obama Administration’s Task Force on the Middle Class. Bernstein made it clear that he understands “our administration will be judged by how our policies lift or don’t lift the middle class.” “GDP growth is necessary but far from sufficient.” What we need is “a more equitable distribution of growth.”
He said we need to end the “shampoo economy—bubble, bust, repeat.” We need “a government that’s amply funded, fiscally responsible, and competently run.” That means “we have to invest in health care, environment, and education to create the foundation for a strong, sustainable American economy.”
The panel moderator Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine, asked Bernstein to respond to Kuttner’s challenge.
“Nobody really knows the best way to proceed to stabilize the financial sector,” Bernstein explained. The nation has never faced the current situation before. We should judge the success or failure of the Administration’s approach by looking at economic efficiency and the public cost. “The outcomes thus far have been pretty favorable in terms of efficiency and in terms of protecting the taxpayer,” Bernstein said.
Which brings us back to Robert Borosage’s observation. We are for the President, but we won’t leave it at that. We’re also for pushing him to do better.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the book, “Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People”.
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