Douglas Holtz-Eakin was introduced to me years ago at a dinner of friends organized by Democrat and economic wunderkind Adam Posen who is a senior staff member at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. I liked him instantly and still do.
I say that hesitantly because too much blog-hugging from TWN can hurt the perceived legitimacy of people on the right and the left that I have supported and endorsed in the past. I once tried to help R. Nicholas Burns out in a possible bid to move up to the vacant Deputy Secretary of State post by doing a hit job on him. Many of my readers excoriated me — but when I ran into Nick Burns at the British Ambassador’s home, he walked up and said, “I knew what you were trying to do — and thank you.” I like the complex thinkers.
But Holtz-Eakin, who is now exploring the flora and fauna of Wasilla, Alaska, was perhaps one of the least partisan directors of the Congressional Budget Office in its history — though I’d give high marks to the incumbent Peter Orszag as well.
For a very long time — both before John McCain’s campaign melted down in the John Weaver-McCain split and then again when it was resurrected under Rick Davis — Holtz-Eakin has been the domestic policy adviser to John McCain’s campaign.
I know him. He’s a straight-shooter, but Joe Klein is trying to tease out a real gap between what the straight-shooting, straight talk express type guy Holtz-Eakin is on fiscal and tax issues and contrast them with the apparently less straight-talking than he used to be John McCain.
Holtz-Eakin apparently told Fortune columnist Matt Miller:
“It’s arithmetic.” Federal revenue today is 18.8 percent of GDP and federal spending is 20 percent. Holtz-Eakin observes that “the pressure are there” to lift spending [on entitlement programs, mostly] and taxes to 23 or 24 percent of GDP by around 2020, and to as much as 27 percent if health costs remain out of control.
Then, Klein and Mark Halperin’s “The Page” contrast this with another statement from Holtz-Eakin:
Asked why Republicans still insist they’ll cut taxes, he says, “It’s the brand, and you don’t dilute the brand.”
I am told by someone close to the amiable Holtz-Eakin that one of the odd things about these pair of quotes is that they were most likely made in very different venues, perhaps years apart. (I haven’t confirmed this with Matt Miller but the assertion was made by someone close to Holtz-Eakin to me)
I have to admit that I occasionally dig into the work and thinking of campaign staff advisers as well because they are “general” benchmarks to help understand the thinking and direction of a candidate. I think Jason Furrman’s work and appointment was an interesting benchmark to understand some aspects of Obama’s economic thinking. I think that knowing that Randy Scheunemann is a key adviser to McCain is also essential to understanding McCain’s vector on foreign policy.
But they don’t explain everything, not by far — and it may not be completely fair to make the candidate responsible for the views of his staff. They are not the same, not identical.
This reminds me of a story that Henry Kissinger has told on a few occasions — usually at Nixon Center dinners I have attended.
Kissinger states that when he was serving as Nelson Rockefeller’s foreign policy adviser in his campaign in the 1968 race, he was reluctant to join Nixon who had called to have a meeting with him after Rockefeller had been knocked out of the Republican primary by Nixon.
Kissinger apparently called Rockefeller and asked what he should do – hoping to remain loyal to Rockefeller and also cognizant that he and Nixon may not be on exactly the same policy page.
According to Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller said “Of course go see him. Nixon is taking a hell of a bigger chance on you — than you are on him.”
That’s the way it is between advisers and candidates. They are not identical and shouldn’t be weighed that way.
But it is interesting to know that Holtz-Eakin is now going to provide some key policy support for Sarah Palin.
Now that gap — thin or big — would be fun to know more about.
And also, could someone up with Doug Holtz-Eakin in Wasilla send me a picture of him with a totem pole?
— Steve Clemons