Last night, national air time that was meant to provide Pres. Obama with a platform to address GOP opposition to his stimulus plan was instead largely diverted to several of his nominees’ failures to pay their taxes. E.J. Dionne reports that this air time was sought due to a growing awareness that the defeated GOP is winning the media battle over his economic initiative (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/article s/2009/02/obama_losing_stimulus_fight_to .html). Obama published an Op-Ed in this same issue of the Washington Post to confront GOP obstructionists. But the stimulus bill has also found plenty opponents on the left.
Instead of arranging for air time and newspaper space, Obama needs to put his economic team into action to support these efforts. Many of us find Obama’s academic background a cause for optimism, and his comfortableness with academics a potential boon to his administration. His economic team is stacked with world-class academic economists. He needs to take them out of their research mode and put their lecture and seminar experience in the field to engage critics on both sides.
I suggest Obama arrange for some conference rooms in the Capital building all day on Mon. He should invite legislators from both houses and include members of the press to sign up for presentations given by professors such as Roehmer and Summers, as well as senior advisors with august credentials such as Paul Volcker. They need to prepare materials for distribution presenting the data that supports both the general architecture of this plan and its particulars and leave plenty of time for questions. If they cannot answer a particular point convincingly, it needs to be addressed further before submission of the final bill.
An academic president who has surrounded himself with top academics in his effort to lead this country and serve the American people needs to use all of the assets associated with the academic approach to our challenges. He needs to use them to research and to teach, to field questions and to persuade. If opponents do not engage, he wins the PR battle. If they do engage and the encounter produces amendments, he makes good on his promise to listen to us. If the academics who make up his economic team prove incapable of explaining their plans, absorbing criticism, and making adjustments, then what’s the point of paying for their credentials?