The knock on Senator from Illinois -- and it's not just coming from the Senators from Arizona and New York -- is that he's long on vision and short on nitty-gritty. Careful readers of this column know that's a bit unfair: you can go to Obama's website and find position papers as detailed as Clinton's on a range of issues. (See, for example, Agenda posts about health care and global warming.) But hey, who has time for that? So on Wednesday Obama metaphorically rolled up his sleeves and foreswore the applause lines (as he put it) to delve into the details of his economic proposals. Mercifully, he did not refer to them as "solutions".
In a speech delivered at a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, that makes SUVs, Obama laid out both a vision and a plan. The vision was simple: "[T]hat our prosperity can and must be the tide that lifts every boat; that we rise or fall as one nation; that our economy is strongest when our middle-class grows and opportunity is spread as widely as possible. And when it's not -- when opportunity is uneven or unequal -- it is our responsibility to restore balance, and fairness, and keep that promise alive for the next generation." And, he added, "We are not standing on the brink of recession due to forces beyond our control."
The plan, on the other hand, was extensive, if predictable ("the same old tax-and-spend liberal dogma," says the Republican National Committee). "The first challenge," Obama said, "is to stem the fallout from the housing crisis" -- with direct relief to victims of mortgage fraud, as well as tax credits and refinancing assistance to borrowers -- "and put in place rules of the road to prevent it from happening again." To combat "the cost crisis facing the middle-class and the working poor," Obama proposed savings incentives and tax cuts (and a tax increase for corporations using "loopholes" and shipping jobs overseas), health care reform, tax credits for college tuition, and the like. And for families already struggling with debt, he promised a credit card bill of rights and to reform the recently reformed bankruptcy laws, which were made more punitive at the behest of credit card companies.
It was Obama's macro policies, however, that got the most press. The Illinois Senator touted his clean tech initiative, which would invest $150 billion over ten years in green energy, creating, he said, up to five million new jobs. That idea's been around for a while, but he also floated a "National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. This investment will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs." Obama didn't explain how that leverage would work (neither did the accompanying background paper, which described the bank as an independent body that would enhance, not supplant, existing federal transportation spending). Nor how he would pay for it: "We'll fund this bank by ending this war in Iraq," he said, but of course that's nothing more than replacing one line item of deficit spending with another. Republicans are right to be suspicious.
The Clinton campaign is suspicious, and dismissive, too. It has detailed very similar ideas, and accuses Obama of being a copycat . This ideological parity, however, apparently won't keep some in her camp from attacking Obama as a member of the Democrats' "McGovern wing" -- at least according to a column by Robert Novak to be published this weekend (and teased by Mike Allen at Politico.com). Novak writes that the Clinton campaign "sees the need in Ohio to identify Obama as a leftist in the eyes of lower-income white voters, who often have supported Republican candidates against Democratic opponents they consider too liberal." But, he adds, "they want to keep their candidate's fingerprints off the attack."
You can read much more about Obama's derivative left-wing agenda here.