Does Obama Have to Become Conservative to Get Things Done?

At first blush, Greg Mankiw's advice to President Obama sounds straightforward and commonsensical. In a nutshell, he tells the president to:

1. Focus on the long run deficit
2. Reduce marginal tax barriers created by the phasing out of tax breaks
3. Stop trying to spread the wealth
4. Get rid of bad teachers to improve education quality

Sounds pretty reasonable doesn't it?

Well, sure it does. If you're a moderate Republican. If President Obama backed the deficit commission's proposal, lowered marginal tax rates for the upper-middle class by by reducing tax expenditures that target the low-income, and took on the teacher's unions, he'd be indistinguishable from an effective moderate GOP president.

To be fair: The president's best shot at getting things done in 2011 might be to govern as a pragmatic moderate Republican. But phasing out lower-income tax breaks and walking back the Democrats' allegiance to redistributing income from the most wealthy to the least wealthy isn't a pragmatic liberal economic strategy, because it's not liberal. It's just old fashioned conservative economics.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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