Democrats’ favorite ‘conservative Republican’ economist is neither Republican nor conservative

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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As the fight over President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act heats up on Capitol Hill, Moody’s economist Mark Zandi would seem like a dream come true for liberal pundits and Democratic politicians alike.

When progressives try to make the case that all the economy needs is more spending to boost economic growth and job creation they often turn to Zandi, a former advisor to Senator John McCain’s 2008 campaign for president, as exhibit A.

“Republican economist Mark Zandi declared the President’s plan would keep the U.S. from sliding back into the recession, add two points to the GDP, and add 1.9 million jobs,” Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat, said on the floor last week.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” former President Bill Clinton argued that Zandi’s belief that over one million jobs could be created by the president’s new jobs plan is proof that such rosy predictions are supported “right across the economic board.”

Writing in Slate earlier this month, Jacob Weisberg said that the benefits of a new stimulus package were “received wisdom among economists, including many conservative ones.” Specifically, Weisberg cites Zandi — “John McCain’s economic advisor” — who has argued that the 2009 stimulus prevented unemployment from rising another two percentage points.

It’s true that Zandi supports more stimulus spending. “The fiscal boost from the jobs package next year would be larger than in the first year of the 2009 economic stimulus,” Zandi said in a statement released by the White House last week. However, the implication that Zandi is a conservative Republican is, at best, deeply misleading. (RELATED: New Obama plan promises to raise taxes, worry Democrats)

To his credit, Zandi has never tried to hide his ideological beliefs. “I’m a registered Democrat,” he told The Washington Post in a 2009 profile. He worked with McCain not because he agreed with the GOP’s economic agenda but because of his policy of “help(ing) any policymaker who asks, whether they be a Republican or a Democrat.” According Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s chief economic advisor, Zandi was brought on to the campaign to provide instant analysis of economic news, not to set policy.

Democrats first began citing Zandi’s tenuous conservative credentials and support for government spending during the debate over Obama’s original stimulus plan. “I’m just saying what Mark Zandi from Moody’s, an adviser to John McCain, is saying: You have to have a package of this robustness if you’re going to make a difference,” then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a press conference in early 2009.

New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer had referred to him as a “conservative Republican” in an interview with Fox News the month before.

At the time, some in the GOP complained to the media that Democrats were getting away with implying Zandi was a Republican who backed their plans. “He’s doing a press call with Schumer today and he’s advising Democrats on this bill,” said one GOP staffer in an email to The Post, “but he’s always cited as a ‘former McCain adviser’ as if that means he’s a Republican endorsing the Democratic proposal.”

With the Obama administration pushing for a new round of stimulus spending, some conservative advocacy groups are pushing back on the Democrats’ assertion that Zandi is a right-leaning economist.

“Mark Zandi is a registered Democrat and an advocate of Keynesian economics,” says Barney Keller, a spokesman for the influential Club for Growth. “He’s about as conservative as Paul Krugman, and wrong just as often.”

Zandi could not be immediately reached for comment.

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Will Rahn