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Brooks on Burke and Obama--Stuntz

 This column perfectly captures my own sentiments—both the hope that the new Administration would succeed, and the growing concern that its confidence is misplaced.

 
One unpleasant surprise in the Administration’s economic plans, at least to me, has been Obama’s lack of empiricism. When discussing stimulus packages, I expected the President to say something like: We will take this approach and, if it works, we’ll do more of it; if not, we’ll try something else. Instead, the new President usually exudes confidence that his experiments will succeed—all of them. Can he really believe that? If not, isn’t he setting himself up for failure? When he first took office, FDR promised “bold, persistent experimentation.” Obama promises that all our problems will be solved. The gap between those promises is worrisome.

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Comments ( 3 )

"Worrisome." You are so restrained. Reading the Brooks article today, I wondered what you thought of his ruminations. I go in circles: Obama is so smart; he can't truly believe he has all the answers, so, he must be...acting? Does he think that is required to boost the spirits of the ignorant masses? How could anyone perpetually promote such idealism? Does he mean what he says about anything? Education and re-education, for example? Or is such a speech all of a piece: the congressional greeting gauntlet, giving autographs, promises of transparency, magazine interviews. The red flags are flying but I want to reject the cynicism and think there is sincerity there SOMEwhere, but it's too unsettlingly inconclusive. Or is it?

Oh, I think (again) it's not really so much about the economic recovery, but at least just as much about reconfiguring the relationship between the state and the economy. If we're 18 months on and things are still slogging along (say, 10% unemployment, anemic/negative economic growth, depressed stock market) the response will be (I'd bet) that we didn't do *enough* along Obamian economic lines, not that things didn't work. Is there any policy question where you can point to where Obama backed one position and then changed his mind based on empirical outcomes? The only thing I can think of is, maybe, education, where he seems reasonably open to some different options (though where so far his policy efforts have been the same ol' liberal song).

I have a somewhat similar reaction to Cathy's. I don't worry so much that President Obama is being disingenuous-- I don't think he is. But I worry about his reliance on his own intelligence. One difference between Obama and Roosevelt is that Roosevelt knew his advisors were brighter than he was, and saw his role as making a sensible judgment among the advisors' competing proposals. It seems to me that Obama views himself as an intellectual equal to his advisors, rather than principally as a referee. I also worry about the administration's seeming reluctance to make hard choices and to stick with them.