The economist-columnist gap
Speaking of the Bush administration’s economic team, here’s something odd: The bulk of the Bush administration staffers who got columns after they left the White House were on the communications side. The majority of the Obama administration staffers who secured similar perches are economists.
Let’s start with the Bush administration: There’s political maestro Karl Rove, who now writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal. Michael Gerson and Marc Thiessen, both of whom were speechwriters, write for The Washington Post. David Frum, who was also a Bush administration speechwriter, is at the Daily Beast/Newsweek, as is Mark McKinnon, who worked on Bush’s presidential campaigns. Greg Mankiw, who led Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, writes for the New York Times. Meghan O’Sullivan, a former foreign policy hand, writes for Bloomberg View.
Now the Obama administration: Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s first budget director, wrote for the New York Times and now writes at Bloomberg View. Larry Summers writes for Reuters, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times. Christina Romer, who was Obama’s first director of the Council of Economic Advisers, writes for the New York Times. Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s second director of the CEA, writes for the Wall Street Journal. Ezekiel Emanuel, who advised the Obama administration on health care policy, writes for the New York Times. Betsey Stevenson, who was chief economist at the Department of Labor under Obama, writes for Bloomberg View. Jared Bernstein, who was chief economist to Vice President Biden, doesn’t specifically have a column, but he’s an on-air commentator with MSNBC and CNBC.
So, why the disparity? I don’t really know. The easy answer is that the economy is the top issue right now, and so editors are naturally more interested in adding economic expertise than political expertise. But that said, it’s easier for me to come up with Clinton administration economists who had regular media perches — Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Alan Krueger, Alan Blinder, Robert Reich, Larry Summers, and Joe Stiglitz all fit the bill — than Bush administration economists.
It’s also possible that this is an effect of the economists leaving before the political advisers: David Plouffe, David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and many of the other big-name strategists associated with the Obama effort are still working with the president. Perhaps more of them will enter the media if Obama’s effort to win reelection fails, or, if it succeeds, when his second term ends.
Another possibility, of course, is that economists who serve in Democratic administration are gloryhounds — or, to put it more politely, aspiring public intellectuals — in away economists who serve in Republican administrations aren’t.
But I’m open to other theories. Also, I’m probably missing a few names on both lists, so please add anyone I forgot in the comments.