Treasury Secty. John Snow and Robert Rubin are fighting to claim Alexander Hamilton's mantle





The Hamilton Project is a group formed earlier this year by a gaggle of center-left economic worthies, including former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, to promote Clintonesque policy alternatives. The adoption of Hamilton's name, and the inclusion of John Snow's infinitely better-regarded predecessor, seems to carry the implicit message that the country would be in better shape if it had a real Treasury secretary.

It was all too much for Snow to bear. He quickly delivered a speech wrapping himself in Hamilton's mantle. "Hamilton, after all, was foremost among the founding fathers in seeing that the new republic's future depended upon the vitality of commerce and the private sector," argued Snow, "while the authors of the Hamilton Project argue for a larger government role."

He then boldly challenged his critics. "For those who criticize the economic policies of President Bush, I simply ask two things: Which of the facts about the current economic picture of growth and job creation do you dispute? And where is your plan for the future?"

From perusing the Hamilton Project's website, the answer to those questions is abundantly clear. It points out that although gross domestic product has risen, wages for workers in the middle have barely budged--and, anyway, large deficits eat away at future prosperity. As for the plan, it's laid out in detail on the site. If Snow isn't allowed to surf the Internet at work, I'll gladly print out a copy and mail it to him.

What apparently miffed him the most was the suggestion that Bill Clinton's policies tracked Hamilton more closely than Bush's do. In a subsequent interview, Snow tabbed himself a "lifelong student" of Hamilton. Returning to the subject last week in a cable TV interview, he insisted that "the authors of the Hamilton Project are misappropriating Mr. Hamilton." (Naturally, this argument also ended badly for Snow, as Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow declared that Rubin & Co. were right.)

Of course, it's impossible to definitively classify Hamilton--or his opponent, Thomas Jefferson--on the modern ideological spectrum. Hamilton favored more vigorous government to help spur commerce, winning him favor among the business elite. Jefferson favored smaller government and championed the little guy. That debate, however, took place in an era when government had historically been a tool of the rich. Today, government taxes more from the rich and gives more to the poor, which has flipped the alignments that prevailed in Hamilton's day.



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