I read the other day that Robert Reich reacted favorably to Obama's appointment of Gene Sperling as his top economic advisor, and wondered if there was more to it. I'm happy to see that the Times has actually interviewed him:
BERKELEY, Calif. — So how would he grade President Obama’s economic policies, and the new team put in place this week?
Though Robert B. Reich, the former labor secretary, endorsed Mr. Obama and has traveled to the White House to provide economic counsel, he offers a smile that looks unmistakably pained.
“We have a remarkably anemic recovery; it’s paper-thin,” Mr. Reich says. “In the narrowest, tactical terms, in sheer dollars committed to programs, Obama’s done pretty well, and his favorability ratings are better than those of the Democratic Party.”
Then he sweeps his hands far apart in his sun-filled warren of an office at the University of California, Berkeley.
“If you widen the lens, the public is being sold a big lie — that our problems owe to unions and the size of government and not to fraud and deregulation and vast concentration of wealth. Obama’s failure is that he won’t challenge this Republican narrative, and give people a story that helps them connect the dots and understand where we’re going.”
Mr. Reich, 64, is one of several prominent liberal economists who despair of what they say is this president’s political caution, and his unwillingness to duel with an emboldened Republican Party.
Faced with a Republican majority in the House, Mr. Obama this week appointed Gene Sperling, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, as director of his National Economic Council, and William M. Daley, a centrist politician turned banking executive, as his chief of staff. Mr. Daley was a member of the Third Way, a group that counsels deficit reduction, more tax cuts and perhaps trimming Social Security.
Mr. Reich is not pleased by the president’s message of late.
“By freezing federal salaries, by talking about deficits, by extending the Bush tax cuts, he’s legitimizing a Republican narrative,” Mr. Reich says.
“Why won’t he tell the alternative story? For three decades we’ve cut taxes on the wealthy while real wages stood still.”
[...] Why does political romance so often sour into disappointment? “Even the most visionary president — Reagan, say — gets surrounded by ambitious tacticians,” he replies. “Everyone is giving advice about the next battle, and there is no room for thinking about how to communicate with all those Americans essentially sitting in the bleachers.”
Democratic presidents, he goes on, raise money from and are surrounded by Ivy League-educated meritocrats, often of substantial wealth.
“Their norms are of those who earn more than $300,000, whose kids go to private school and whose primary savings are in the stock market rather than in their homes,” he says. “Their assumptions are different in profound ways from most struggling Americans.”