Should Obama Enlist a “Team of Rivals?”

Progressive economist Robert Kuttner, writing in Huffington Post, suggests that — given the terrible record of Obama’s economic advisors — he should employ the sort of “Team B” process used by the CIA in the 1970s in order to challenge “prevailing notions about national security.”

According to Kuttner, Obama should enlist this Team B and allow it to work and make its suggestions free of interference or critiques by his existing team.

“So let’s bring in an economic B-Team to do the same exercise: Nobelists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman; Rob Johnson of the Institute for New Economic Thinking; Damon Silvers of the AFL-CIO; Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute; Jamie Galbraith of U Texas; Bob Reich of Berkeley; Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute; and Jane D’Arista or Robert Pollin of the Political Economy Research Institute, to name a few.

“Even Paul Volcker, to whom the President turns only as a last resort, is an honorary B Team member. Several of these would make a better treasury secretary than Geithner, and Obama needs to hear their views unfiltered through appointees who have every reason to be defensive.”

After reading Kuttner’s suggestion, I was so taken with it that I dashed off a note to the President (at urging him to read Kuttner’s article, and suggesting that “Lincoln would have loved this idea!”

Of course, by now most of us who had naively high expectations of Obama are well over the hope that he might aim to be another Lincoln or FDR.

Kuttner’s suggestion is good and sensible, one that President Obama could implement easily and with little political risk.

Nevertheless, Kuttner himself seems to doubt that Obama would be receptive, and I suspect he’s right:

“I am weary of writing pieces whose theme is “Here’s what Obama needs to do.” Just between us, I’m not sure the man is paying attention.

“So my next posts will be about what we need to do. And here is the general point: We need to build a movement — a movement that politicians and the media can’t ignore.

“If you are like me, you have been in dozens of conversations lately in which smart people ask each other, “How come there is no real grass-roots progressive movement?”

“Among plausible answers I’ve heard are these:

“Ordinary people are beaten down and fearful. Remember the expression, “a revolution of rising expectations”? This is a counter-revolution of depressed expectations …

“Young adults are so economically stressed that they don’t have time for a movement …

“Folks today are too busy being entertained with social networking.

“And speaking of social networking, the internet, absent strong political leadership, is not the medium of a real movement though it can be tactically useful. MoveOn, in its prime, was the germ of something real. But progressives have too many parts, and no coherent whole. The Colbert-Stewart sanity rally was a hoot, but no movement.”

Kuttner, who is always worth reading, promises to talk more in coming weeks about how to build a real movement.

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