The Good, The Bad, The Economy

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Romney for Secretary of National Healing

Offering Romney a high-profile position might be a stroke of Lincolnesque genius

There’s a lot of quiet celebrating going on in Massachusetts this morning. A few weeks ago, we’d marked the passing of George McGovern with wistful reminiscences of how ours had been the only state to go for the Democrat in the presidential election of forty years ago. Today, we’re celebrating the near-miraculous re-election of Barack Obama under the most inauspicious economic circumstances in which the feat has been pulled off in well over half a century. There’s much to celebrate, because this time at least 25 other states went as Massachusetts did. 

Our voters also sent a Democrat and a crusader for public oversight of the financial sector to the Senate, re-filling the old Ted Kennedy seat. That senate campaign was most remarkable for the distance that incumbent Scott Brown tried to put between himself and party ticket-header Mitt Romney. It seems that Mitt’s political capital was nowhere lower than in Massachusetts, where the public seemed disgusted by the specter of his years of tacking rightward to capture the GOP mantle followed by weeks of Etch-a-Sketch rebranding as a political moderate. Romney lost to Obama by a large margin even in the Boston suburb of Belmont, where he lives.

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But there could be a silver lining to the saga of Romney’s seven-year sail to the Far Right and dramatic tack back to the Center. In his concession speech, Romney said that the nation “is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”

Remember watching the Obamas and the Romneys chatting amiably after the two men had at each other in each televised debate? Perhaps the animus between the two men is small enough that if Obama reached out to Romney and asked for his help in securing Republican support for a fiscal compromise, Romney would agree. Might Romney have obtained enough good will with Republicans, during the campaign, that his appeal to avert national disaster would bring some congressional Republicans around? 

Obama has hinted that he’ll call on the public to demand that Congress come together and find workable solutions to our looming financial problems. Offering Romney an official and credible position in a national crisis team and doing so in a manner public enough to make it hard for Romney to turn down the offer could be a Lincolnesque stroke of genius for Obama. The theme of this campaign for reconciliation on national economic policy can be the one twice stated by Bill Clinton in his speech two months ago in Charlotte—and also a theme of this blog—“What  works in the real world is cooperation.” The opportunity shouldn’t be lost.

Louis Putterman, Ph.D is an economics professor at Brown.

 

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