Ask Senator John Kerry's long-time aides to name people he has relied on for economic advice and you're likely to get a blank stare. Push further, and they may mention a conversation he once had with the late MIT economist Rudi Dornbusch. Or an article he read by Blackstone Group Chairman Peter Peterson. Or a speech written for him more than a decade ago by former Commerce Undersecretary Robert Shapiro.
Troth is, Senator Kerry hasn't relied much on anyone for economic advice over the years. His Senate staff focused more on foreign policy, or POW/MIAs. A former prosecutor, he conducted investigations like the one into the BCCI scandal. Economic policy, say those who worked with him in the Senate, wasn't really his thing.
It is now. Candidate John Kerry recognizes that for all the focus on turmoil in Iraq, it's the economy and its troubles that offer his best shot at winning the White House. Key battleground states are suffering from large job losses. The state of Ohio, for instance, has lost more than 200,000 jobs since President Bush took office. To seduce such states from the Bush column, Kerry needs to show he can do better.
He plans to do that by relying on people who've already proven they can do better: President Clinton's economic team. When Kerry assembled a group of economic advisers in Boston in early April, the cast had a remarkably familiar look: former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was there, as was former Clinton Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and former Clinton National Economic Council Chairman Gene Sperling. Two younger alumni from the Clinton administration--Jason Furman and Sarah Bianchi--were also on hand. The only person missing was former Treasury chief Lawrence Summers. As head of Harvard University, he has to avoid an active role in the campaign. But as one of the others put it: "He takes our phone calls."
Kerry's full embrace of Clintonomics doesn't always sit well with the two other big influences in the Democrat's campaign--Senator Ted Kennedy, who came to Senator Kerry's rescue in the primaries, and organized labor, which will provide him with foot soldiers during the long year ahead. Both are less inclined to worry about fiscal rectitude, and more insistent on increasing government "investment"--read: spending. In an interview with mc, Kerry made a nod in their direction by saying one area of disagreement with President Clinton's economic policies was his belief that "there should have been more infrastructure investment." But for the most part, Kerry seems to have made an early decision to favor the Clintonites--whose focus is fiscal prudence--over their Kennedy-labor rivals.
Kerry disputes the notion that this is a new direction for him, and the notion that he is a neophyte in economic policy. He points out that he served ten years on the Senate Banking Committee, was a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is now a member of the Senate Finance Committee, and chairs the Senate Small Business Committee--which he renamed the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. He can rattle off a long list of moderate-sounding initiatives that he helped champion--low documentation loans, the New Markets initiative, a targeted capital gains tax cut, and so on. He is particularly proud of his early support of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-cutting measure in the late 1980s. Speaking of Clintonomics, Kerry says, "It was sound policy, that I took part in. In...