Berkeley economist Brad DeLong, always a helpful source on what Obama’s economic advisers purport to believe even when asked to say otherwise, laments about what Ezra Klein’s take on Peter Orszag’s going to CitiGroup reveals about the competence of White House Staff.

DeLong concludes the messaging Staff are just incompetent when they criticize Orszag. That may be, but I think there’s a simpler, more plausible, explanation.

First from Klein’s post:

It’s difficult to overstate how much bad will has developed between Orszag and the White House he used to serve. Some of that comes from perceived disloyalty in Orszag’s public statements — like his first New York Times column, which called for a short-term extension of all the tax cuts when the White House was arguing for the permanent extension of most of the cuts and the expiration of the cuts for the rich — but this move [to Citigroup], which many in the administration consider politically problematic and personally distasteful, added considerably to the anger.

And DeLong responds:

Look: Peter Orszag believes–as do I–that the most basic principles of good governance mandate that the American government have a long-term plan in place to match its long-term projected expenditures with its long-term projected revenues. Peter Orszag believes–as do I–that requiring that every policy initiative be paid-for in the long-term so that it does not increase the projected debt, say, ten years out into the future is the minimum low bar that policy should be able to clear.

Barack Obama has not taken Peter Orszag’s advice: he has not proposed only initiatives that are paid-for in the long-term. He has not pledged to veto bills that raise the projected debt ten years hence.

Let’s try a different theory. Since a supposedly temporary two-year extension of all the tax cuts is exactly what the White House accepted and is now forcefully defending, doesn’t it make more sense to think Orszag was a helpful stalking horse for an idea the White House had already embraced months ago?

After all, as Jane Hamsher recognized, and DeLong apparently agreed, there’s no reason to believe Obama would have wanted to run in 2012 on raising anyone’s taxes, even the rich.

If that was the strategy from the beginning, then having Obama consistently claiming he didn’t want tax cuts for the richest 2 percent to continue but had no choice but to accept them would have been how this White House would have spun it. And they would have scotched any negotiating posture — remember Schumer’s $1 million threshold? — that might have put that core part of any deal in jeopardy.

So if that’s what happened, then it’s perfectly consistent to have the supposedly off-message White House Staff telling trusting reporters how upset they are at Peter Orszag for being disloyal and undermining the President’s goals to end the high-end tax cuts. And who better than Ezra Klein to run with this? And how convenient for the WH to be able to blame Orszag for alienating much of the Democratic Party.

I didn’t used to be this cynical, but come on guys. All the arguments about “where was Obama’s veto threat” apply equally against Orszag’s NYT claims that Obama can/will threaten to veto further extensions in 2012, in the face of a more hostile Congress and his own election on the line.

Orszag’s NYT op-eds also came complete with a signature Obama tactic, a seemingly gratuitous, dishonest slam at progressives for, he claimed, being unwilling to discuss Social Security’s “insolvency.” [More about Orszag here.]

And the icing on the cake is reading reports uncritically telling us the White House is, gosh darn it, really upset that Peter Orszag would embarrass the Administration by walking through those million dollar revolving doors at CitiGroup.

Good grief. You’d think this Administration had a stringent policy of not hiring people from Wall Street or allowing those steeped in its ethics from running the economy or defining the limits of financial “reform” and the purpose of HAMP. Please.

John Chandley