Frank Rich’s Assessment of Holtz-Eakin Is Dishonest, Unfair

July 22, 2008

New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote a column today bashing John McCain as it relates to the economy. In it, he criticized McCain’s various flip-flops and his unwillingness to lay out a clear budget plan that would balance the budget as he initially claimed. Rich also has some unfavorable things to say about Sen. Phil Gramm, who recently got into some hot water by dare questioning that Americans may not have it as rough as they think they do. He also takes a shot at McCain advisor and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who when speaking about issues of public policy, is far from a stellar spokesperson.

But when it comes to describing McCain’s most prominent economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Rich does a complete disservice, writing:

Given that Mr. McCain’s sole private-sector job was a fleeting stint in public relations at his father-in-law’s beer distributorship, he comes by his economic ignorance honestly. But there’s no A team aboard the Straight Talk Express to fill him in. His campaign economist, the former Bush adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, could be found in the June 5 issue of American Banker suggesting even at that late date that we still don’t know “the depth of the housing crisis” and proposing that “monitoring is the right thing to do in these circumstances.”

Former Bush adviser? Yes, Holtz-Eakin was a Bush adviser for a short period. But he also had a position called Director of the Congressional Budget Office, where he was praised by those on both sides of the aisle. He IS an A-team economist when it comes to federal fiscal policy. But for Rich, of course, trying to tie somebody to Bush is more important than telling the readers the whole truth.

If Frank Rich wanted to criticize Holtz-Eakin in this column (where he questions the credentials of other economic staff and highlights McCain’s lack of knowledge on economics), he could have echoed the writings of Berkeley economist Brad DeLong (left of center and one of the top macroeconomists in the world), who gave a critical, yet fairer assessment of Holtz-Eakin and his performance on the McCain campaign. But Rich would rather take cheap shots at one of the most well-respected fiscal policy experts in Washington, ignoring his past accomplishments and taking one quote to somehow prove that he isn’t A-team material.

If Holtz-Eakin is not on the A team when it comes to federal policy issues, then nobody on Obama’s staff is either. Brookings economist Jason Furman (who according to Naomi Klein isn’t far enough left) is solid when it comes to federal fiscal policy, but I don’t think anyone would say that he is on the A-team and Holtz-Eakin is B-team. Austin Goolsbee is a brilliant economist, but I would surmise that his expertise level on specific federal fiscal issues does not match that of Holtz-Eakin (or Furman).


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