Apparently, what I like to do at 10:30 pm on Wednesdays is peruse old magazines looking for lengthy policy-oriented articles from last summer. Here's a sweet find from the NY Times Magazine in August, a sort of profile of the economic aspect of Obama. This was before the financial crisis cast policy nuances into much deeper relief.
Summary: Obama is not a New Democrat. But he's not an Old Democrat either. Can the guy have it both ways? Yes! And not just because he's Obama and he gets it all. The world today, Obama's argument goes, is both ways. The 1990s battle between the two Bobs -- Reich and Rubin -- is no longer relevant. Each Bob, Obama says, was partly right. I love it when he synthesizes. Seriously. I do. That's the reason I liked him long before he ran. On economics, the Obama synthesis comes, according to the article, from his time at University of Chicago, physical and intellectual home of Milton Friedman. Inevitable Friedman osmosis, along with the usual liberal intellectualism that just runs rampant amongst learned people, provided Obama's foundational economic outlook.
So: Obama fundamentally trusts markets, but believes that they make grievous errors (I'll say!), and that those errors must at times be aggressively corrected. Is that a new idea? If so, then no wonder we're screwed. Obama's thought, thankfully, is more nuanced than that. In his words:
"...Reagan ushered in an era that reasserted the marketplace and freedom. He made
people aware of the cost involved of government regulation or at least
a command-and-control-style regulation regime. Bill Clinton to some
extent continued that pattern, although he may have smoothed out the
edges of it. And George Bush took Ronald Reagan's insight and ran it
over a cliff. And so I think the simple way of telling the story is
that when Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, he
wasn't arguing for an era of no government. So what we need to bring
about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government
and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying
the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate
effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected
with that market and to succeed in that market."
See? Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis. I guess maybe he is a Marxist. Or at least a dialectical materialist.