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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Lots of administration policymakers are to the left of Olympia Snowe

By Ezra Klein

Brad DeLong, who worked with Gene Sperling in the Clinton administration, testifies on behalf of Sperling's liberal bona fides. In response, Duncan Black observes that "anecdotes suggesting 'he's really a liberal!' seem to pop up when people are floated for key economic positions."

That's true, but not for the reason that I think Black is suggesting. Rather, many of these policymakers really are liberals! But most of the time no one really cares about them. Reporters aren't calling around asking after Gene Sperling's position on internal administration debates. When they hear about what Sperling -- who is currently an adviser to Secretary Tim Geithner -- thought in a debate, they don't publish it. Reporters care what the administration does. And the administration cares what Sen. Olympia Snowe thinks, and does things to make her happy -- things that may not make Gene Sperling happy.

But then when someone like Sperling gets floated for a bigger position, suddenly reporters do start calling around to ask after Sperling's positions on internal administration debates and out come a bunch of stories about how he took a position to the left of the ultimate compromise. It's not the anecdotes that are new, but the interest in them.

The one word that gives me pause in this post is the word "liberal." Different people define that different ways. So maybe it would be more accurate to say that the policymakers in the Obama administration tend to prefer outcomes that are to the left of what ultimately happens (save, in some cases, on issues that relate to deficit reduction), because the policymakers in the administration are significantly to the left of the swing Democrats in both the House and the Senate. That doesn't mean they're as liberal as a lot of liberals would like them to be, which is why I'm trying to be careful with the word. But it's easy to find anecdotes where the policy that the administration's econ team preferred got pulled to the right by the Senate.

Related: On Gene Sperling.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  | January 3, 2011; 2:00 PM ET
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Next: Government on the scale, cont'd


Gene Sperling is a bad economist.

Posted by: novalifter | January 4, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

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