THE BLOG
09/22/2010 10:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tone Deaf White House Needs Top Economic Honcho to Counter Criticism That It's Anti-Middle Class

How much more politically tone deaf can the Obama administration get to the economic anxiety of the middle class?

In response to the announcement of the departure of corporate shill Larry Summers as Obama's top economic adviser, "Administration officials are weighing whether to put a prominent corporate executive in the NEC director's job to counter criticism that the administration is anti-business."

Hello! Where in the country is Obama's and the Democrat's biggest political problem that they're seen as too anti-business, except in a few square miles of Wall Street, K Street, Park Avenue, S. Hampton, and Westport, Connecticut?

The administration's biggest political problem -- and the reason Democrats are likely to take a beating in the midterm elections -- is that it's seen as not doing enough for the struggling middle class. It's seen as having thrown trillions of dollars of taxpayer money at Wall Street without extracting much in return, while unemployment remains near 10%, homeowners are foreclosed on, small businesses can't get loans, the middle class worries about its economic future, and bailed-out bankers and corporate CEOs take home record bonuses.

Now that Washington Democrats and Republicans have helped save their asses, a handful of ungrateful investment bankers are complaining that Obama is "anti-business" because he wants to raise their income tax rates by 3% and make billionaire hedge-fund managers pay the same tax rates as their secretaries instead of 15% capital gains rates. So they're shifting their political contributions to Republicans who will keep taxes on their millions low and writing emails to their wealthy friends complaining that Obama's just not that into them anymore.

And the reaction of the Obama administration to this blackmail? To put out trial balloons that it will appoint a millionaire businessman or woman to be its top economic adviser. While Joe Biden begs the Democrats' middle class base to give money, knock on doors, make phone calls, and turn out at the polls, this is the message the White House wants to send to voters?

Hey, here's an idea for the political geniuses in the White House: How about Carly Fiorina. She has all the qualifications they're looking for -- ex-CEO, female, pro-business, anti-regulation, pro-tax cuts for the rich, and a Republican to boot. It even has the bonus of getting her out of the California Senate race.

Joke? Only barely. Other than being forced by her ambition to move farther right than she probably is in order to run for office as a Republican, how different is Carly than some of the other CEOs whose names are being floated for the post? Richard Parsons, the black CEO of Citibank and former CEO of Time Warner? Diana Farrell, Summers deputy, former Director of corporate consulting firm McKinsey and former Goldman Sachs exec? Gary Gensler, another Summers deputy and former Goldman Sachs exec? Anne Mulchacy, former Xerox CEO? Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric? Mark Zandi, Chief economist of Moody"s and former McCain economic advisor?

Are you getting fired up and ready to go yet? This sure seems like a winning strategy to excite the Democratic base and bring back middle class independents.

The job of the head of the National Economic Council is to coordinate economic policy and funnel a wide range of varying economic ideas to the president so he can choose from a variety of policy alternatives. Summers was famous for limiting the range of ideas presented to Obama, even blocking access to Obama by moderates like former Fed Chief Paul Volcker and former Obama chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer. How wide a range of economic policy ideas do you think Obama is going to get from a corporate CEO whose friends and associates tend to be other corporate CEOs and billionaires?

So here are a few ideas that might actually show that Obama and the Democrats care about the middle class and help them win votes if announced before the election.

1st Choice: Elizabeth Warren: Obama's already bringing her to Washington, but in a limited role dealing with consumer finance. Warren has a better understanding of the causes of the financial crisis and of policies to fix it than just about anyone in America, and even more, she has the ability to explain it on TV to ordinary Americans more effectively than just about anyone in America. When she knocked it out of the park summarizing the entire economic crisis in 5 brilliant moments on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart said it made him so excited he wanted to make out with her, even though her husband was in the green room. She would know how to brief Obama on a range of economic views, including progressive ones. And her appointment would send a loud message that Obama cares about the middle class.

2nd Choice: Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden's chief economic adviser who's currently the only progressive on the White House economic team. He's allowed himself to be too co-opted by the administration's party line crafted by Summers for my taste. Still, he's former senior economist for the labor-supported Economic Policy Institute, has close personal ties to many of the most prominent progressive economists, and would bring a wider range of alternative policy views to the President's attention.

3rd Choice: Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel-Prize-winning economist, chairman of Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers from 1995-97, and former chief economist of the World Bank before he was fired at Larry Summer's urging for opposing stringent austerity measures on third world countries that he believed would increase poverty.

Other choices: Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich; University of Texas Economics Professor James Galbraith.

I could go on, but it's most likely all a fantasy. The administration seems intent on shooting itself and Democrats in the foot by appointing a conservative pro-business executive who will reassure its fair weather friends on Wall Street of its "pro-business" street cred, rather than a proven fighter for the economic interests of the middle class who would reassure voters that Obama and Democrats are on their side. For supposedly smart people, how dumb can you get?

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Postscript: Despite my many criticisms of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats, many of which I've expressed in The Huffington Post, I had planned to write an article this week urging progressives to do everything in their power to prevent a Republican Congressional takeover, including making campaign contributions, going door to door, and making phone calls, and then to organize a mass progressive movement independent of the administration and elected Democrats after the elections. (Just yesterday, after promising myself that I would only make campaign contributions this season through progressive organizations like Act Blue and Move On, in response to another mass email from Obama, I even made a contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to try to avoid having to utter the words "Speaker Boehner".) Then the Obama administration made its bonehead comments about appointing a corporate CEO to replace Larry Summers as chief economic advisor and I felt compelled to put off that article and point out how bad a decision that would be.

Note to Administration Officials: People like me are the part of your base that's relatively easy to mobilize for election campaigns. If your words and actions stop me in my tracks, imagine what they do to former supporters who are even more disappointed with you than I am. Are you trying to throw the elections?