Noam Scheiber writes that Obama’s domestic-policy shop is a bunch of non-ideological, empirically minded academics:
Sociologically, the Obamanauts have a lot in common with the last gang of Democratic outsiders to make a credible run at the White House. Like Bill Clinton in 1992, Obama’s campaign boasts a cadre of credentialed achievers. Intellectually, however, the Obamanauts couldn’t be more different. Clinton delighted in surrounding himself with big-think public intellectuals—like economics commentator Robert Reich and political philosopher Bill Galston. You’d be hard-pressed to find a political philosopher in Obama’s inner wonk-dom.
The Clintonites were moderates, but they were also ideological. They explicitly rejected the liberalism of the 1970s and ’80s. The Obamanauts are decidedly non-ideological. They occasionally reach out to progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute, but they also come from a world—academic economics—whose inhabitants generally lean right. (And economists at the University of Chicago lean righter than most.) As a result, they tend to be just as comfortable with ideological diversity as the candidate they advise.
Reach back a bit futher, to Johnson’s whiz kids. Substitute RAND for Chicago and Hitch for Thaler, and it’s looking pretty good (I’m still working on the McNamara isomorphism). Of course, behavioral economics is driving a stake through the heart of rational-choice theory, but PPBS had a solid run, until the advent of the anti-analytic presidency, to which Obama is often compared (paging Aaron Wildavsky…).
What-ever. If Obama will push through the Policy-Analyst Full-Employment Act of 2009, he has my vote.