One of my great disappointments, and a cause of utter dismay at times, of Obama’s first term was his near-total failure to bring into his administration really brilliant academics, and (apparently) to actually listen to the ones he did bring in. I remember back in early 2009 how happy I was that Obama was going to pursue major healthcare insurance reform, right at the outset, and I assumed that he would enlist the assistance of two or three of the most prominent academics who had extensive background related to healthcare financing. Which, in my opinion, meant, first and foremost, Uwe Reinhardt, the James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton’s Economics and Public Affairs departments.
I sort of had this vision of Reinhardt and Gail Wilensky, the moderate Republican healthcare economist who had served as George H. W. Bush’s Medicare director, joining together at Obama’s request to draft a potential healthcare insurance bill.
Instead, of course, Obama left it up to Max Baucus and a few other members of Congress to draft a bill from scratch, and then failed to aggressively explain its contents and refute the massive campaign of disinformation about it. Sort of like his method of handling the stimulus legislation. Thus, the 2010 election results.
But healthcare costs and related issues are deeply entwined with economic and labor issues, and Reinhardt’s expertise is not limited to healthcare costs and delivery. He is not per se a labor economist, but he is per se brilliant and possessed of the ability to explain complex facts to the economics-and-healthcare-finance-challenged crowd. (Trust me on this.)
A huge difference between now and any time during the past four years is that, finally, suddenly, some mainstream journalists and pundits are joining Paul Krugman in awakening to the facts highlighted in the above indented excerpt by Jim Tankersley. In mainstream print journalism, it may still be just the editorial writers at the New York Times and economics correspondents at the Washington Post, but I’m betting that it’s about to gain real steam.
The Times editorial I’m referring to is in today’s paper, and argues:
I agree that if Obama limits his options for this post to past or present politicians and people already, or recently, in government, then Granholm is an excellent choice. But I think it’s past time now for him to look elsewhere, to academia, to fill a post that has the potential to make a defining contribution to critical economic and labor policy.
I fear, of course, that Reinhardt is the wrong gender. Obama needs to place women in prominent positions in his administration, after all. And there may well be a terrific labor economist who is female; I wouldn’t know. But even more than placing women in prominent positions in his administration, he needs to place someone with a deep understanding of national and international labor and economics dynamics in a position of real influence and public exposure.