Modest Man Loved Talking Policy; Murray Weidenbaum, Who Died Last Week, Influenced Government and Generations of WU Students; Business

By Nicklaus, David | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

Modest Man Loved Talking Policy; Murray Weidenbaum, Who Died Last Week, Influenced Government and Generations of WU Students; Business


Nicklaus, David, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Murray Weidenbaum was many things to many people: statesman, teacher, conservative thinker and policy expert. He also was one of the best interview subjects a journalist could ask for.

Our archives tell me that I quoted Weidenbaum, who died last week at age 87, six dozen times over the years on subjects ranging from the debt ceiling to international trade. His comments have an element of timeless wisdom about them.

They often show Weidenbaum's conservative Republican stripes, but he could criticize both parties. When asked about an expensive 2008 farm bill, he said both President George W. Bush and congressional Democrats had set "a very high standard for pork."

He also could be realistic about which way the political winds were blowing. In 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he correctly predicted that small-government thinking would fall out of favor for a while. "To put it bluntly, when the situation changes, our policy response has to change," Weidenbaum told me. "When dramatic things have occurred on a nationwide scale, people look to the government as a safety blanket."

What the archives can't convey is the patience with which Weidenbaum answered vague or uninformed questions, and the humor he found in even the driest financial topics.

His amusing anecdotes were usually self-deprecating. In a 1983 essay, written after he stepped down as chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, Weidenbaum recalled being parodied by a Washington colleague as "Murray Weidenbomber," author of a fictitious memo about "a slowdown of the downturn."

In short, Weidenbaum was the go-to economic answer man for two reasons. One, he understood and cared about everything from taxes to Federal Reserve policy to corporate governance, and two, he genuinely wanted to educate the public.

Weidenbaum wore the conservative label proudly, but didn't embrace the supply-side economics of the 1980s or the Tea Party rhetoric of recent years. …

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