Matt Yglesias makes three really important points today in responding to Ezra Klein's pessimistic musing about whether Barack Obama could have enacted and implemented better economic policies (see, too, Kevin Drum's catalog of pessimism). The first point is that, yes, Obama could have done some things better. I'd say that most of the things he could have done would have helped around the margins...but you never know; had his policy actions and choices been flawless, perhaps all of those "around the margins" might have added up to enough to get the economy zipping along by now. In particular, Yglesias cites fed appointments and the possibility of some sort of triggered extra stimulus. What I'd add is that I suspect that somewhere along the line, perhaps best in fall 2009, they perhaps could have squeezed through Congress a long and short term scheme for stabilizing state budgets.
I do think, in Klein's defense, that the mistakes were mostly of the "around the margins" variety. Most of the things that people talk about, such as a $2T stimulus bill in fall 2009, just weren't going to happen no matter what Obama wanted. One certainly can claim that was a preventable error, but the error in this case was made by folks such as Ben Nelson and Susan Collins, not by Barack Obama. Not only should their actions be attributed to them, and not the president, but I find it very difficult to imagine what exactly he could have done to change their basic political orientation.
I'd also emphasize that it's really easy to picture real policy disaster. What if the Obama stimulus dies in the Senate, just as Bill Clinton's 1993 stimulus bill did?
Anyway, the other two points are really the best thing about Yglesias's post. One is that it's certainly understandable, albeit regrettable, that Obama and his team made mistakes; the second is that policy errors should not be read to imply true motivations. Absolutely true in both cases, and very important to remember.
*Should I have gone with "All Our Yesterdays"? Needed something like that in response to Yglesais's "Imagining Better Yesterdays," and I figured I could use "Enterprise" because it's about the economy. Right? Although if I had gone the other way, I could have worked in a Mariette Hartley reference.