How much do a candidate's advisers matter? I'm not sure, but there has been some concern expressed on the left about a new economics guy hired by Obama:
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., underscored his affinity with Democratic centrists this week when he tapped Jason Furman, who worked closely with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, to be his director of economic policy.
But the selection is now drawing criticism from some on the left who are wondering if the presumptive Democratic nominee will challenge corporate power and make good on his promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
"When people see someone like Barack Obama promise change and then see that same person make their first move the hiring of a Wall Street economic team, that’s what sows disengagement and cynicism in the public,” said David Sirota, a one-time backer of former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who is the author of “The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington."
Lori Wallach, a lawyer and leading opponent of free-trade policies, said the appointment was jarring from a policy and a political perspective.
"Furman seems like a liability, given his anti-worker writings and statements about Wal-Mart, fair trade and other middle-class issues," said Wallach, director of Public Citizen's global trade watch division.
And some commentary on what Furman thinks about trade issues:
1) Furman is no protectionist. He understands the benefits that open trade brings America, such as low-priced goods at Wal-Mart and the intense competition that leads to innovation. The Hamilton Project, the program he ran at Brookings, is all about making sure the benefits of trade are more widely dispersed and the losers from trade taken care of—not scrapping NAFTA or the World Trade Organization. Here is what Furman told me back in 2007:
Jason Furman, director of the Hamilton Project, a centrist economic group, thinks there will be plenty of China-bashing rhetoric and talk of trade barriers—like one proposal to slap a 27.5 percent tariff on Chinese goods because of the weak yuan--over the next few years, not to mention a pause in new trade agreements. But in the end, he speculates, Democrats will mostly push for greater social insurance, such as vastly increased unemployment benefits. "Social insurance," he says, "can lead to a more dynamic society by letting people feel more comfortable taking risks."
Here is something else I wrote about Furman:
In the past, I have differentiated—using an idea stolen from economist Jason Furman at the Hamilton Project-between "pretax Democrats," who want to alter the trade environment such as reopening NAFTA, and "after-tax Democrats," who want to mostly deal with any negative trade effects after they happen, such as through an expanded social insurance program that might include wage insurance for displaced workers.
In other words, Furman would rather see expanded unemployment insurance, wage insurance, and more education for workers rather than trade barriers to protect their jobs. Unions tend to dismiss those sorts of policies, "burial insurance."
It's amazing what a fine line politicians have to walk in trying to create a majority coalition. It seems that at any moment, parts of it are ready to revolt.