Labor union officials and some liberal activists were seething Tuesday over Barack Obama's choice of centrist economist Jason Furman as the top economic advisor for the campaign. The critics say Furman, who was appointed to the post Monday, has overstated the potential benefits of globalization, Social Security private accounts and the low prices offered by Wal-Mart -- considered a corporate pariah by the labor movement.
Officials from several labor organizations phoned the Obama campaign to complain about the appointment and circulated e-mail messages containing quotes from some of Furman's work. Campaign officials responded that some of the quotes were inaccurate or out of context. They expressed confidence in Furman's abilities and said that Obama would be listening to an array of advisors.
...."We are very much taken aback that Furman has been put at the head of this team," said Marco Trbovich, a senior aide to United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard, whose support is considered crucial to Obama's success in heavily unionized areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and other battleground states.
....He is a very bright fellow, but he is an unalloyed cheerleader for the trade policies that have been very destructive to manufacturing jobs in this country," Trbovich said.
....Perhaps the most enraging part of the record, according to Trbovich and others, were comments attributed to Furman on Wal-Mart.
In a paper presented in Washington, he suggested that there were some economic benefits from the company's low prices and other policies at a time when major labor unions had launched an anti-Wal-Mart campaign.
....Lori Wallach, a lawyer and leading opponent of free-trade policies, said the appointment was jarring from a policy and a political perspective.
"Furman seems like a liability, given his anti-worker writings and statements about Wal-Mart, fair trade and other middle-class issues," said Wallach, director of Public Citizen's global trade watch division.
....[Furman] was also quoted in a transcript from a CNBC interview in 2006 as suggesting openness to changes in Social Security that might include private accounts and benefit cuts.
The approach he described sounded similar in some ways to that proposed at the time by President Bush.
However, other members of the Obama economics team said, don't worry, we won't pay any attention to him:
In naming Furman as economic policy director, Obama also announced that other economists, including some from the left, would informally become part of the Obama economics team.
One economist from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, Jared Bernstein, offered praise for Furman, saying he understood why some critics were unhappy, though he thought their fears were misplaced.
"I understand the concerns, given positions he has taken" on some issues, Bernstein said. "But I am 110% certain that it will be Barack Obama -- not Jason Furman or Robert Rubin -- who will be setting the policies for the Obama administration."