Barack Obama, Economic Policy Wonk

David Leonhardt has a must-read piece on Barack Obama’s economic policy in this weekend’s NYT Magazine. It’s long (over 8,000 words), and even so it doesn’t tease out all the implications of, say, Obama’s 100%-auction cap-and-trade system on US fiscal policy. But the real achievement of this article, I think, is not its length or its depth but rather its one-sentence description of Obama, which sums him up extremely well:

Barack Obama: A Free-Market-Loving, Big-Spending, Fiscally Conservative Wealth Redistributionist.

Leonhardt makes the good point, towards the end of the article, that this kind of thing can be hard to sum up in a Reaganesque soundbite, especially when Obama is understandably keen on bundling his economic policy with his environmental policy.

What’s abundantly clear from the article is that Obama has a thinking man’s economic policy: empirical, post-ideological, pragmatic. Yes, he does have an unfortunate fondness for ethanol subsidies, which comes from a combination of his Midwestern roots and the primary electoral calendar. But beyond that, he has Bill’s, rather than Hillary’s, openness to new ideas and focus on ends rather than means.

And more to the point, he’s interested in this stuff:

Shortly after I boarded Obama’s campaign plane this month, one of his press aides warned me that the conversation might not last long. She explained that he was exhausted from two days of campaigning in Florida and might decide to nap as soon as he got on the plane. But a few minutes later he summoned me to the plane’s first-class section, evidently choosing an economics discussion over a DVD of “Mad Men,” which was sitting on his side table. His eyes were tired, and he looked a good deal older than he had only four years ago, on the night that he became famous at the 2004 Democratic convention. But we ended up talking for an hour. After I returned to my seat, the press aide walked back to tell me that Obama had more to say.

It’s a passage you simply can’t imagine reading about either George W Bush or John McCain. And given that the economy is quite rightly Issue Number One in this election campaign, it should surely help Obama that he really cares about his economic policy, rather than simply reading off a list of party-political talking points.

Should, of course, being the operative word. Whether it will, of course, is another matter.

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