Barack Obama has grown into a small industry. Some people are convinced
that he is a radical left-winger, while others claim he absorbed free
market economics during his time as a law professor at the University
of Chicago. Obama’s voting record in the Senate is left-wing, but
since he’s been planning on pursuing the Presidency for years, maybe
those votes were for public consumption.
My view of Obama’s economics is
straightforward one and it is consistent with his public
pronouncements. I view Barack Obama as an economic pragmatist who is
willing to borrow good ideas from many different sources. He stands
further to the left than do most Americans (myself included) but he has
lined up the very best centrist economic talent to advise him.
the reason for thinking that Obama is such a pragmatist? If you read’s
Obama first memoir (Dreams from My Father: A Memoir of Race and Inheritance),
which he wrote before he was famous, issues of identity dominate He is
acutely aware of being a mixed-race person in a community of largely
white American leaders. Most of all, I think Obama wants to do a good
job as President and he wants to be seen as having done a good job. That
would pave the way for improved race relations and, although Obama
would not use these words, it would bring higher status to
African-Americans. When it comes to his
subconscious, I see Obama as more attached to the notion of
excelling than to any particular view of economic policy. Keep in mind
that Obama was raised by a white mother (the father was absent) and he
“decided to be black,” and decided to marry a black woman and attend a
black church, only later in his life. Oddly, his hopes for improved
race relations are the hopes that would be held by a utopian white
liberal rather than the vision held by most African-Americans. That is
one reason why African-Americans were initially so slow to support him
and why so many educated white elites feel so at home with him.
Obama is also famously detached and
it seems he never loses his cool. He does not fixate on economic
ideology but instead he is focused on creating his own personal success. That implies a very strong ego but also it again leads to an economic and also a foreign policy pragmatism.
If Obama is elected, I expect the
major economic storyline to be Obama pushing policies in the national
interest (as he perceives it) and Congress pushing back with earmarked
expenditures and privileges for special interest groups. It won’t be about Democrat vs. Republican.
There is plenty of talk about Obama
being half-black but perhaps the more important fact is that Obama is
from Hawaii. Many Hawaiians barely think of themselves as North
Americans and they live thousands of miles from the continent. The
Hawaiian background is part of where Obama’s cosmopolitanism – which is
strong and sincere – comes from.
My description may sound like a very
favorable portrait of Obama on economics but he will likely encounter
serious problems if he wins the election. The
important American Presidents are those like Reagan who “know a few big
things” and push them unceasingly, without much regard for the
pragmatic or even the reasonable. Obama is not
used to connecting with mainstream America and if he wins it is because
the country is fed up with Republicans, not because the voters have
absolute confidence in him. Congress will test him. The chance that he makes big mistakes will be small, and that’s all for the better. But the best prediction is that he will be ineffective in tackling most of America’s biggest problems.