Some people I know react with incredulity when they hear television commentators remark on President Barack Obama’s brilliance. “How can he say that?” they expostulate. “He doesn’t understand basic economics, and he relies on a teleprompter even during news conferences. This guy is in over his head.”
To which I reply: True, true … and don’t count on it.
It is true that Obama’s policy preferences are economically unsound. I first commented on that a year ago when I lamented his preference for foreign aid, which has a record of dismal failure, over the market alternatives—foreign trade and foreign investment—that have lifted many countries out of poverty. Okay, so he’s not a good economist. So what? We don’t elect economists as presidents. We elect politicians as presidents—and Obama is a brilliant politician.
As my Economics 101 students learn, politics often trumps economics in public policy. Political success depends on winning the support of a majority of voters, and since a majority of voters are economically ignorant, it shouldn’t surprise us that elected officials adopt economically unsound policies. Consider that, by all accounts, Obama’s role model, Franklin Roosevelt, was clueless about economics, yet he was so skillful at knowing whose bread to butter with federal dollars that he was elected four times. Obama, like FDR, seems to have the same knack.
As for the teleprompter crutch, the president is following a highly choreographed, pre-planned strategy designed to play to his constituencies. Like master chess players, Obama and his brain-trust have planned many moves ahead. All Obama has to do is follow the script.
Think of Obama as the public face of a large corporation (a multinational corporation, perhaps). Clearly, a young one-term senator from Illinois didn’t build his massive Internet fund-raising army and organize his Cinderella presidential campaign with the help of just a few buddies. I’ll leave it to the investigative reporters to shed some light on the many branches of Obama, Inc., but this huge organization’s strategy might have already checkmated the Republicans for the next few election cycles.
Here is how I see Obama, Inc.’s “grand strategy.”