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Obama Lances the Bubble (at Least for a Night)

By Dan Froomkin
11:40 AM ET, 05/ 4/2009

It's always worth celebrating when a president willingly pierces the White House bubble.

Evan Thomas writes in Newsweek with this bit of news: "Mindful of his predecessor, Barack Obama seems to be trying harder to make sure he hears all sides. On the night of April 27, for instance, the president invited to the White House some of his administration's sharpest critics on the economy, including New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz. Over a roast-beef dinner, Obama listened and questioned while Krugman and Stiglitz, both Nobel Prize winners, pushed for more aggressive government intervention in the banking system."

Krugman and Stiglitz have both long argued that Obama's financial rescue plans won't work -- and stick the taxpayers with a bill that should be paid by banks and their shareholders. They argue that Obama is overly dependent on top advisers who have excessively close ties to Wall Street. And they both support temporarily nationalizing banks that are too weak to survive on their own.

Oh, to be a fly on that wall. (Or to have one of them, say, blog about it.)

In an April 14 interview with David Leonhardt of the New York Times, just published over the weekend, Obama had defended his economic advisers -- while at the same time hinting that Krugman and Stiglitz might be getting a hearing.

"I have enormous respect for somebody like Joe Stiglitz," Obama said. "I read his stuff all the time. I actually am looking forward to having these folks in for ongoing discussion. Somebody who has enormous influence over my thinking is Paul Volcker, who is robust enough that, having presided over the Carter and Reagan years, he’s still sharp as a tack and able to give me huge advice and to provide some counterbalance."

Newsweek's Thomas was not overly impressed. "It will take more than a few dinner parties to avoid the fate of presidents who lost touch with reality," he writes. But consider that his essay served as an introduction to an excerpt from a book about the Bush administration.

"To judge from 'War of Necessity, War of Choice,' Richard N. Haass's new book on presidential decision-making with regard to Iraq, George W. Bush lived in a bubble, partly of his own making, that walled off creative dissent or even, in some cases, common sense," Thomas writes.

In the Newsweek excerpt, Haass writes about his July 2002 visit with then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, when he was the State Department's director of policy planning: "For several weeks, those on my staff who dealt with Iraq and other Middle East issues had been reporting back that they sensed a shift in tone within the government. Their counterparts working at the Pentagon, the National Security Council (NSC) and the vice president's office who favored going to war with Iraq were sending signals that things were going their way. I did not share this enthusiasm for going to war, believing that we had other viable options and fearing that any conflict would be much tougher than the advocates predicted. I was also concerned that an invasion would take an enormous toll on the rest of American foreign policy at the precise moment in history that the United States enjoyed a rare opportunity to exert extraordinary influence....

"Condi cut me off. 'You can save your breath, Richard. The president has already made up his mind on Iraq.' The way she said it made clear he had decided to go to war."

And that was that. Haass decided to concern himself with other things. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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