Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Obama Chief: BOOOO-URNS!

Obama's mess of an economic policy team continues with the hire of Jason Furman, the director of the right wing Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. Another day in the battle for control of Barack Obama's economic policies, we can chalk this one up as a loss for progressives:

ABC News' Teddy Davis, James Gerber, and Gregory Wallace Report: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., underscored his affinity with Democratic centrists this week when he tapped Jason Furman, who worked closely with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, to be his director of economic policy.

But the selection is now drawing criticism from some on the left who are wondering if the presumptive Democratic nominee will challenge corporate power and make good on his promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"When people see someone like Barack Obama promise change and then see that same person make their first move the hiring of a Wall Street economic team, that’s what sows disengagement and cynicism in the public,” said David Sirota, a one-time backer of former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who is the author of “The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington."

Furman comes to the Obama campaign from the Brookings Institution where he headed the Hamilton Project, an economic policy research group which was founded by Rubin. Furman is the author of a Center for American Progress report which argues that some efforts to pressure Wal-Mart have ended up undermining low-income consumers. He also has backed a reduction in the corporate tax rate that would be financed by increasing the number of firms covered by the tax.

Associate of Robert Rubin? Pressuring Walmart to pay their employees enough keep them out of poverty=Bad? Less corporate taxes on big corporations balanced out by more taxes on small businesses?

(Vomit in mouth)

So this isn't too shocking based on the signals he gave off during the primary, but it is upsetting. The good news is some people are asking questions of Furman. Thomas Edsall was grilling him during a conference call, and it led to one particularly terrifying statement:
"I think it is a reflection, no reflection at all on Senator -- I was hired, I think, because maybe I've done an effective job in previous campaigns, not because of any particular economic views that I have," said Furman who advised Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
Huh, I'd actually rather he be hired because of his center-right economic history rather than his campagin "skills". Does anyone remember John Kerry's economic strategy? From this very blog back in November of last year:
Flashback to 2004: A time when even though I was crushed about Dean's defeat, I figured that anybody who could string two sentences together and not lead us into a senseless war would beat George W. Bush. Enter Bob Rubin:
He (Jagdish Bhagwati) was rambling on about Kerry, and the Kerry campaign and said that at some point in the general election, after Bob Rubin had signed on as an advisor, he saw Kerry giving a speech in which he blasted “Benedict Arnold” companies for pursuing off-shore tax havens. According to Bhagwati, he picked up the phone and called Kerry and said “If you ever say that again I’m off the campaign.”
Needless to say, the Benedict Arnold line had been getting enthusiastic reception and tested off the charts. It never made another appearance. Another example of the Bob Rubin effect on the Democratic party.
So obviously the 2004 loss was about more than this one thing, but it really shows the idiocy of these DLC consultants. Even though these issues are popular with the public (as well as, you know, the right thing to do) the corporate wing of the party has managed to keep them from ever seeing the light of day. It's funny looking back, because I remember talking to Rahul at the time about Kerry's use of the phrase, and us both thinking that it was a great way to rail against tax cheat companies. For more on Bob Rubin, check out this older profile which includes this shameful story:
In April 2004, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney grew concerned that John Kerry was getting too much of his economic advice from the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party. Kerry had just completed his primary sweep. In the general election, he would need the unions. Sweeney proposed a private meeting to discuss living standards as a campaign issue, and the candidate invited the labor leader to his Beacon Hill home. Sweeney arrived at the Kerry manse, bringing his policy director, Chris Owens, and Jeff Faux of the Economic Policy Institute. There, seated in the elegant living room, were Robert Rubin and two longtime lieutenants: investment banker and former Rubin deputy Roger Altman, and fellow Clinton alum Gene Sperling -- Kerry's key economic advisers.

In a three-hour conversation, the group discussed the deficit, taxes, trade, health care, unions, and living standards. The labor people urged the candidate to go after Wal-Mart's low wages. Rubin countered that a lot of people like Wal-Mart's low prices. Kerry eventually announced that the meeting needed to wrap up, because "Bob has to get back to Washington." Rubin responded that, no, he could stay as long as Kerry wanted. Sweeney and his colleagues were ushered out the door; Rubin, Altman, and Sperling remained. "Wall Street was in the room before we arrived," says Faux, "and they were there after we left."
Bob Rubin is the poster child of the wrong side the Populist/Corporate split within the democratic party. As long as he and other impediments to real change hold sway within the democratic party, no election is a sure thing. 2008 may seem that way now, but remember how we felt in the lead up to 2004. Some people still don't understand that Republican lite will never beat Republican: they're just better at it than we are.

Oh yeah, and this cycle Bob Rubin is supporter of Hillary Clinton. Shocking, I know.
DAMMIT! Come on Barack! This wing of the party is full of losers, and they're a dying breed. Hell, you of all people should know, you're the one who took down their candidate for president!

Don't go down that road! In addition being shitty policies to propose, it blunts your ability to tap into voter anger on economic issues. It's like putting away your best tool before you've even started to debate McCain on the economy and then trying to fight him with one hand tied behind your back. Granted it's John "I don't understand the economy" McCain and you'll still win the debate, but you have a chance to absolutely destroy him if you keep the populist card on the table.

This hire is just one piece of the puzzle in what to expect economic policy wise from Obama during his campaign, as well as during (knock on wood!) his administration. I'll have more on his significant economic policy speech from last week soon in order to fill in a few more of the blanks.

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