Obama's opposable mind
Q:The overwhelming consensus among economists is that the economy needs another shot of short-term stimulus spending. But as the president and congressional leaders have discovered in trying to pass a new stimulus bill, voters want to start bringing the deficit down now. Is this one of those leadership moments when it is better to accommodate strong constituent beliefs rather than trying to convince them they are wrong?
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Few doubt that President Obama has a first-rate mind. His challenge is to frame his policy recommendations so that they achieve his goals while, to the extent possible, accommodating strong constituent beliefs.
In this case, Obama (and his supporters) need to explain that unemployment will not go down much in the absence of additional targeted stimulus spending. But he needs to couple this with a pledge like this: "For every percentage-point reduction in the unemployment rate, we will cut our deficit by X percent, either through eliminating programs, reducing their rate of growth, or adding targeted taxes. And so, by the time that unemployment has gone down from nearly 10 percent to 5 percent, we will again have a balanced budget." And of course, he need to keep his word!
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