Obama Brings Affirmative Action To His Economic Recovery Advisory Board

| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 11:43 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 11:43 AM EST

Would George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have sought economic advice from, say, James Galbraith, a well-known progressive economist (and Mother Jones contributor)?

That's a rhetorical question.

But look at the composition of Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which he unveiled on Friday morning. It's chaired by Paul Volcker, the former Fed chair, and includes, among others, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Penny Pritzker, a businesswoman and philanthropist who chaired Obama's campaign finance committee, Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win (a labor group), Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Martin Feldstein of Harvard. Feldstein is a prominent conservative economist. He was resident Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser and was a driving force behind George W. Bush's failed effort to partially privatize Social Security. (Imagine if that had gone through!) He also was a board member of AIG (whoops!). Talk about affirmative action.

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But look at the composition of Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which he unveiled on Friday morning. It's chaired by Paul Volcker, the former Fed chair, and includes, among others, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Penny Pritzker, a businesswoman and philanthropist who chaired Obama's campaign finance committee, Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win (a labor group), Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Martin Feldstein of Harvard. Feldstein is a prominent conservative economist. He was resident Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser and was a driving force behind George W. Bush's failed effort to partially privatize Social Security. (Imagine if that had gone through!) He also was a board member of AIG (whoops!). Talk about affirmative action.

Feldstein's presence on the panel says more about Obama than Feldstein. It certainly demonstrates that Obama is serious when he said on Friday that he wants to hear from all sides:

I’m not interested in groupthink, which is why the Board reflects a broad cross-section of experience, expertise, and ideology. We’ve recruited Republican and Democrats; veterans of government and the private sector; advocates for business and labor. Not everyone is going to agree with each other, and not all of them are going to agree with me – and that’s precisely the point. Because we want to ensure that our policies have the benefit of independent thought and vigorous debate.

Obama may not take Feldstein's advice, but he's willing to listen. That's a display of quasi-open-mindedness that hasn't been seen at the White House for years.

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