President Bush has had a series of supremely talented economists advising him over the past four years, including Larry Lindsey and Glenn Hubbard, but he has never had a gifted communicator of the White House economic message. That deficiency caused Bush severe heartburn in both marketing his first-term domestic legislative priorities and in educating American voters about how those policies are working.
In the year before the November elections, for example, the economy soared — with low interest rates, low inflation, respectable job growth, increasing worker productivity, and a rapid rate of growth for the gross domestic product. Bush’s policies were working swimmingly, particularly the 2003 tax cut. Yet, the media portrayed economic conditions as if we were in a mini-depression with many voters buying into this pessimistic viewpoint. The chasm between economic reality and perception almost cost Bush the election.
All of this is to say that what George W. Bush needs an economic communicator — someone who is telegenic, charismatic, and credible. Of course, it goes without saying that this person must also be a gold-plated supply-sider who has an unshakable conviction that the Bush second-term agenda is right for the country. After all, the Bush administration has an incredibly audacious economic game plan: a tax overhaul, Social Security reform, expansion of free-trade agreements, tort reform, and budget control. If Bush can accomplish even half these priorities, he will leave behind a scintillating legacy of achievement.
For all these reasons, the open position of director of the National Economic Council should be filled by NR’s own financial wizard, Larry Kudlow. I recently joined up with a growing band of conservative leaders to try to make this appointment a reality.
This choice makes so much common sense, it’s amazing the White House hasn’t already pounced on it. Kudlow’s credentials to be the president’s chief economic spokesman and adviser are impeccable:
‐ Kudlow is regarded on Wall Street as one of the nation’s premier financial economists.
‐ He is TV savvy (obviously, given that he has his own show on CNBC).
‐ He is right in line with the Bush administration’s thinking on tax cuts, entitlement reform, trade, and monetary policy.
‐ He has advised President Bush and Vice President Cheney on economics over the years.
‐ He has a unique power of persuasion that can convert people in the media, in Congress, and on Main Street of the rightness of his and Bush’s positions.
‐ He has a national (even an international) following.
‐ He is highly regarded among Republicans and many Democrats in Congress.
Larry Kudlow has a pure Reaganite pedigree. He worked for the Gipper between 1981 and 1984 as the chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget. He has worked as senior economic strategist for some of the most prominent investment-banking firms on Wall Street, including two stints with Bear Stearns. He has had the fine sense to write a brilliant bi-weekly column for NRO and also writes frequently for National Review magazine.
It is well known that a number of years ago Kudlow had a near career-ending substance-abuse problem. It is also well known that he has had a blessed and remarkable recovery in his personal/spiritual life as well as his professional life. His only remaining vice is tobacco. (If the White House is a no-smoking zone, that, alas, may be a deal-killer.) Should his past problems be a disqualification? In this age of redemption, the answer surely is no. After all, President Bush, earlier in his life, struggled with his own substance-abuse demons, and he fully conquered them in admirable fashion.
My White House contacts tell me that for four years President Bush has been trying in vain to find for his administration a “Robert Rubin of the right.” Good news: He exists, and his name is Larry Kudlow. Appointing him would be a masterstroke by the White House and would win universal applause — particularly from his conservative friends. This would be President Bush’s most daring and exhilarating Cabinet selection.
What is he waiting for?
–Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth.