Obama’s Economic Choices Frustrate Right-of-Center Supporters

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Over at The Atlantic, Megan McArdle supported Barack Obama’s candidacy because of his economic team. Now, she worries that support may have been misplaced. Namely, she thinks Obama’s budget numbers are insane (her words) and the stimulus package was far too ideological.

The budget numbers are just one more blow to the credibility he worked hard to establish during the election. Back then, people like me handed him kudoes for using numbers that were really much less mendacious than the general run of candidate program promises. Now, he’s building a budget on the promise that this recession will be milder than average, with growth merely dipping to 1.2% this year and returning to trend in 2010. Isn’t there anyone at BLS who could have filled him in on the unemployment figures, or at Treasury who could have explained what a disproportionate impact finance salaries have on tax revenue? These numbers . . . well, I can’t really fully describe them on a family blog. But he has now raced passed Bush in the Delusional Budget Math olympics.

Remember, McArdle is a fiscal conservative, but she’s no Limbaugh-loving right winger. In fact, she makes the excellent point that one of the problems in Washington is that the non-leftist position is sadly represented by a group of Republicans obsessed with the wrong issues.

It’s therefore frankly more than a little disappointing that the free marketers are represented by Grover Norquist, who trots out conservative boilerplate to the effect that we’re all going to hell because of EFCA and marginal tax rate increases. Republicans will not fight delusional accounting by demonstrating that they’re still tangled up in the Laffer Curve. Growth can still hit 1.2%–or even 3.2%–if EFCA passes. But it manifestly cannot in the middle of an ugly recession.

I think many of us centrist types, like McArdle, ended up supporting Obama because we were willing to believe he’d approach the economy from a non-partisan standpoint. But between the leftist agenda items shoved into the stimulus bill, the earmark fest that was the recent spending bill and the budget numbers that are the same kind of wool-over-the-eyes “projections” we have come to expect from the White House, no matter the resident, Obama and his team are leaving the perception that, while they might be a great group of minds, they either lack the political will or the political clout to direct the kind of hard-reality, hard-choice economic policies we really need.

This is not to say Obama’s plans will fail. McCardle’s concerns, like my concerns, might be misplaced. Maybe a leftward agenda, rather than a non-partisan agenda really is the best course. Or maybe it’s the complete lack of a coherent fiscally conservative solution that’s making it too easy for the administration to stick to leftward ideas and/or politics as usual.

As I’ve said before, it’s far too soon to assume Obama’s first 50+ days will define his entire presidency. He has inherited a huge mess and is still learning how to manage congress and present his ideas to the public. Still, those of us concerned with the direction so far can’t keep quiet. Obama needs some nudging from those to his right who share his hopes if not, as of yet, his economic ideas.