February 27, 2009

Making economy his issue, candidate Wheelan lunches with students

[img id="77357" align="alignleft"] Residents of Chicago’s North Side know Charles Wheelan as the politician who talks about the economy while standing underwater, but to the University of Chicago students who attended the congressional candidate’s brown-bag lunch on Wednesday, Wheelan is a professor first.

Wheelan, a senior lecturer in the Harris School of Public Policy and author of Naked Economics, met with students in the Bartlett Trophy Lounge to discuss the nation’s financial woes and the future of the economy, as well as his bid in next week’s Democratic primary for Rahm Emanuel’s congressional seat.

To differentiate him from party insiders, Wheelan’s campaign used viral videos to get the word out. That meant filming Wheelan in a variety of strange predicaments, from underwater to upside down.

Since entering the ring in January, Wheelan has made a name for himself in the race through the humorous video spots and an outsider image, using his academic credentials to prove he built a career around predicting and analyzing economic forces.

“This is all chapter 37 of a textbook that ended on chapter 35,” he said, referring to the economy. “Over at the policy school on my side of the Midway, nobody had any clue that it would add up to something this devastating.”

One policy solution that Wheelan did not endorse was nationalization of the the banks.

“That would be a bizarre statement coming from the University of Chicago. But the reality is we’re now locked in a series of negative feedback loops,” he said. “Oddly enough, I do think a stimulus is the appropriate thing to do—I just don’t know if the stimulus we’ve got will do it.”

There is no polling data on the race, Wheelan said, and no apparent front-runner—making it impossible for him to predict his standing. With 11 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, Wheelan said the race “is a circus, for lack of a better description. Routinely I am asked to summarize my plan for universal health care in one minute or less.”