Asked May 4 by
to name a single economist who supports her proposed gas tax holiday,
responded, “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists,” as if “economist” were a four-letter word. Economists may have had the last laugh, since voters in Indiana were largely unconvinced by her plan. Clinton had a point, though, not about the gas tax but about the undue influence of a certain brand of mainstream economists who dominate prestigious universities–and who also dominated much of
It was these mainstream economists who wholeheartedly supported NAFTA with as few restrictions as possible. They insisted that cutting the budget deficit was the nation’s highest economic priority, even as the government generated enormous budget surpluses by the late 1990s. Instead of investing those surpluses in transportation, education or healthcare, Clinton passed them on to
George W. Bush
to scatter among the rich. Following the hardy advice of mainstream economists, Clinton fully deregulated the financial industry. We got Enron and today’s credit crisis partly as a result. His mainstream economists encouraged the flow of hot capital internationally, contributing mightily to the late-’90s international financial crises.
Hillary Clinton may well be a critic of some of these economic policies now, but she also apparently thinks the economists she knows–the ones who had her husband’s ear–represent the totality of solid and relevant economic thought. In fact, many good economists have different views on trade and fiscal policies and cannot get a hearing. Mainstream economists and public policy analysts have produced very good research on the financial payoff from government investment in infrastructure and pre-K education. Some respected mainstream and many progressive economists have shown that high taxes and big government are not impediments to prosperity and may often contribute to it through sensible and needed social programs. Many economists have made intelligent, well-documented cases for the return of financial regulation. But these arguments go mostly unheeded.
In terms of integrity and capability, however, Bill Clinton’s mainstream economists towered over Ronald Reagan’s advisers, who had but one thing to say: cut taxes. That’s what’s distressing about Hillary Clinton’s remarks. She actually sided with Reagan’s heirs, like former Congressman
, who holds a PhD in economics and who ridicules the intellectual abilities of those who disagree with the notion that tax cuts always lead to more growth. The mainstreamers, we should remember, made their contributions, chiefly beating back the nonsense proffered by Reagan’s supply-side tax cutters.
But don’t get too optimistic. The Democrats’ persistent focus on government spending and the evils of budget deficits is damaging to the nation and to their own capacity to deliver what they promise voters. It would have been refreshing if Hillary Clinton had taken on these central economic precepts. The lesson is not to discard economists. It is to fight bad economics with better economics. Congress, Senator Clinton and Senator
have to reach out for a broader set of views. They are there for the taking. JEFF MADRICK
THE RON PAUL REVOLT:
Democrats still have to figure out how to seat the disputed delegations of Michigan and Florida at the national convention this August in Denver. But the Republicans may have to deal with even uglier wrangling over credentials when they meet in St. Paul the following week, and the challenges posed by supporters of Texas Congressman
could yet throw the GOP’s gathering into disarray. Fervent backers of Paul, the antiwar libertarian who has refused to endorse
, have already created chaos in Nevada, and they’re threatening to do so in more states–including Georgia, Minnesota and Washington–where the process of naming delegates has yet to be completed. After 600 Paul backers packed the Republican delegate-selection session in Nevada on April 26, things got so heated that state party officials suspended the process. What’s Paul’s endgame? He and his followers hope to force the Republican convention to take up issues like withdrawal from Iraq, restoring civil liberties and shutting down the Federal Reserve. That has scared McCain’s team enough that they are rushing to block Paul’s state-based revolts. If they fail to block the inspired Paulites, it could be the Repub- licans, not the increasingly harmonious Democrats, who hold the summer’s more tumultuous convention. JOHN NICHOLS
‘s advantage among superdelegates was once thought to be insurmountable. Following the Iowa caucuses, she boasted 100 more superdelegate endorsements than
. That advantage has evaporated. Following his big win in North Carolina and narrow defeat in Indiana, Obama now has more superdelegate endorsements than Clinton. Since May 6, he has picked up roughly thirty, opening up a double-digit lead. Yet a number of superdelegates still have not made their preferences public. According to my count, more than 80 percent of the 200 or so remaining “uncommitted” superdelegates hail from states that have already held a primary or caucus. These people presumably voted as well. They know who they’re supporting; they’re just not telling the rest of us.
So who are the remaining fence-sitters? More than half are members of the Democratic National Committee or state party chairs, like California state party chair
, Ohio Democratic Party chair
and Democratic activist
(who, like her mother, Nancy, has urged superdelegates to back whichever candidate wins the majority of pledged delegates). Nearly ninety are members of Congress or governors, such as Virginia Senator
(a possible VP pick), Ohio Senator
and Montana Governor
. Two are from Guam. And six are “distinguished party leaders,” most notably
. ARI BERMAN