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Posted at 10:57 AM ET, 01/ 6/2011

The mystery of Bill Daley

By Ezra Klein

Thumbnail image for daleyonmtp.JPG

Imagine I told you that one of the candidates President Obama is considering for chief of staff opposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, opposed doing health-care reform and led the Chamber of Commerce's effort to loosen the post-Enron regulations on the accounting and auditing professions. His major qualification for the job is that he's extremely well liked by the business community, in part because he routinely advocates for their interests and in part because he's a top executive at J.P. Morgan. His theory of politics is that the Democratic Party has become too liberal and needs to tack right. Last year, he doubled down on that argument by joining the board of Third Way.

Now imagine I told you that one of the candidates President Obama is considering for chief of staff has been endorsed by Howard Dean as a "huge plus" for the Obama administration and previously chaired Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. Dean, of course, was the great liberal hope in 2004, and has been a key voice for progressives ever since. Gore's 2000 campaign was a notably populist effort, in tone if not in content.

Now imagine I told you they were the same guy.

This is the mystery of William Daley. Reports suggest that he'll be named Obama's chief of staff fairly soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow. But how is it that a centrist banker who opposed the Obama administration's signature initiatives has such a large constituency among liberal political types both inside and outside the White House?

Daley certainly has his backers. The Obama administration, home to many liberals, clearly likes him. So does Howard Dean, and so did Al Gore. He's apparently quite popular among business leaders, as well. His performance shepherding NAFTA through the Congress certainly sounds like it was an impressive political feat, whatever you think of the underlying legislation.

Perhaps Daley is simply an obscenely good executive vice president type: He seems to have impressed everyone who could one day promote him, alienated virtually no one (or at least no one who has come forward publicly) and effectively advocated for the interests of whoever happened to be paying him at the time.

Or maybe the answer is that the Obama administration has simply decided to tack right, and they figure the way to do that is to hire someone who legitimately believes that tacking right is a good idea. I don't find Daley's theory of politics persuasive, but if you wanted to get credit in the media for moving to the right, it'd help to hire someone who had publicly and clearly attacked your moves to the left.

But the evidence here really doesn't add up. Dean wanted more a vastly more progressive administration, but he likes the guy who wanted a vastly less progressive administration. The administration likes its own record but appears interested in hiring someone who doesn't. There's a widespread perception that the White House is too close to Wall Street, but the leading candidate for chief of staff is a top executive at J.P. Morgan. Oh, and he was on the board of Fannie Mae, too.

The Daley pick seems like a bad idea to me. The particular theory of politics he espouses seems woefully detached from the realities of the modern partisan environment -- as Jon Chait says, it effectively means "allowing extreme positions to redefine the parameters of the debate." But you can certainly read this post as evidence that Daley is a singular political talent, and the Obama administration would be well served by hiring someone able to sustain these sorts of contradictions.

If anyone has seen very persuasive arguments for or against Daley elsewhere, link them in the comments. I'm particularly interested in testimonials from people who've worked with or against him.

Photo credit: "Meet the Press."

By Ezra Klein  | January 6, 2011; 10:57 AM ET
Categories:  Obama administration  
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Comments

Personally, I don't understand the obsession over who the president hires as his COS. The president clearly picks people for a desired skill set as opposed to his/her ideology. He also has to be extremely comfortable with the person because he will see a lot of him.

You write, Ezra, about a "widespread perception" of the admin. being too close to Wall Street. Well, judging by the amount of money Wall Street poured into republican campaigns, they don't share that perception.

Posted by: PamelaF | January 6, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse


The first new rule says you HAVE to have insurance. Both my husband and I have pre-existing conditions, and although the new bill says we can't be denied coverage because of it. So far, the cheapest health insurance we've been able to find is called "Wise Health Insurance" search for it online if you are pre-existing conditions.

Posted by: josephpatel | January 6, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand why liberal bloggers are so quick to judge President's every move adversly. I think a big reason why public perception of President Obama became negative was due to this kind of needless negative reporting with no basis whatsoever. They had a problem with Geithner and Hillary and Bob Gates. These are the folks who helped President accomplish somethings. They were happy with Gibbs and Axelrod and Rahm, a great job they did!
This President is patient, focused and has his eye on the ball. Can we please stop undermining him? Give him a chance. Or would you rather see a Republican in the White house in 2012?

Posted by: AGAustin | January 6, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Daley is the Obama version of Dick Morris, minus the prostitute problem.

Posted by: 54465446 | January 6, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

All this hand-wringing is only of interest only if you believe that the chief of staff drives policy in the White House ... or if you give the President no agency within his administration.

If you're looking for a bogey man on whom to blame any decisions with which you disagree with Obama, then by all means, ponder the choice of Bill Daley, whom everyone seems to like (Gore, Dean). It's like Rahm Emanuel 2.0. (And in an interesting twist of fate, Emanuel is poised to become the next member of the Daley family, as mayor of Chicago. Talk about your conspiracies!)

Basically, the COS decides how to schedule the president's appointments, how to sell his policies inside Washington, and how the staff and office run. He's not going to be the point person for health care or trade treaties. My guess is that he's considered a good manager, and that's basically what the job's about. Getting things done that the President and his Cabinet decide on.

If only such scrutiny were applied to, say, John Boehner here.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 6, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Has there ever been a female chief of staff and if not why not ?

Posted by: sligowoman | January 6, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I would have to assume it's about competence. The Chief of Staff isn't a particularly political job. It's about management style more than position.
And if the guy is likable in spite of his political views, that should make him a good administrator.

Posted by: RCBII | January 6, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Oh, you wanted links to testimonials. Here are a few one can find with a simple google:

1. From "10 Things You Didn't Know about WIlliam Daley"

Mondale saw in Daley something rare: "In these
campaigns, people get all excited and bummed out over everything,” Mondale recalls. “Bill Daley was our steadier. He just seemed to be able to keep it under control at all times.”

http://bltwy.msnbc.msn.com/politics/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-william-daley-9307.gallery?photoId=36444

2. A long-format article on Daley from 2005 in Chicago Magazine, after he was advisor to Kerry's campaign. Maybe worth a read to see a take from before the current scuttlebutt. Snippets:

"Still, people who have worked with him (and against him) credit Daley with remarkable savvy. “If you asked Bill the difference between Cicero and Plato, he wouldn’t know,” says the Chicago lawyer and Democratic stalwart Wayne Whalen, but he possesses a “keen intelligence” on how to plot strategy, to predict how people will behave in a given situation, to see beyond conventional wisdom. As a result, Daley, 56, has played politics at such a high level that his career virtually tracks the roller-coaster history of the Democratic Party through the past quarter of a century."

When Al Gore called Bill Daley in the summer of 2000 and asked him to run his campaign, Daley was the only person on both Gore’s lists of Vice Presidential prospects and campaign chairmen. “That’s a mark of how unique he is,” Gore says.

http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/February-2005/Brother-Bill-A-Look-at-William-Daley/

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 6, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a huge amount of experience with him, but I do have some experience working directly and indirectly with Bill Daley and with Rahm here in Illinois. I am most definitely a liberal, and I have to second Dean's impressions, if not his vote for CoS. Despite Bill Daley and Rahm's nearly identical politics, there is a huge difference between them.

Rahm is petulant and smug. His nickname in Chicago was Congressman A**hole, after the honorific was added to his old nickname. I'm sure he encouraged the nickname and the image. Even people who have sympathies for Rahm's politics and competence generally dont like him personally.

Everyone likes Bill Daley. He's a supreme diplomat. He treats EVERYONE well. Unlike Rahm he doesnt act like he knows more than everyone. The mayor's son is very humble and self-effacing. He goes out of his way to do favors for people and treat them well. He's been in politics his whole life and knows how to watch his mouth. He seems to excel with politics through personal relationships, which is probably how he has Dean singing like a canary.

He also seems to prefer to be very low profile, which the white house probably sees as a welcome change. He has a unique ability on an issue to slip in and shiv an opponent and slip out before its known he's even involved in an issue.

He's the enforcer in the Daley family (at least outside of Cook County where one might make an argument that that would be his brother, Cook County Finance Chair John Daley). Daley may not be a liberal choice, but may be one that Obama sees as most likely to effectively kneecap opponents of team Obama, whomever they may be.

Essentially, he doesnt piss people off, even when he's taking care of business.

Posted by: DrDoug1 | January 6, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Dean is backing Daley for 2 reasons:

#1. He was smart enough to know that Daley's appointment was a foregone conclusion and he wants some access.

#2. Furthermore, his comments about Daley being a grownup who's willing to listen to people like Dean are all about casting aspersions on Rahm Emanuel, whom Dean still despises.

Posted by: michaelh81 | January 6, 2011 1:44 PM | Report abuse

It looks like at the White House Restaurant Pete Rouse will run the back of the house and Daley will run the front of the house. What gets cooked up will still come from Rouse. How it gets served will come from Daley.

And the new CoS can't be more of a triangulating center-rightist than the last guy so take a deep breath everybody.

Posted by: jamusco | January 6, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Look, this is not complicated: DADT is the most significant piece of Civil Rights legislation in a generation. It is the equivalent of Truman integrating the military; Eisenhower in Little Rock, etc. You get the point. So Obama has fed the liberal wing. That is done. Now Obama can let the Republicans destroy themselves with bizarre hearings on C-SPAN about repealing Health Care. He brings in Daley as a big player in Washington who has to be taken seriously by everyone on the Hill; you cross him (Democrat or Republican) at your own risk. He is a power unto himself, so he makes a perfect prime minister. Everyone will return his calls, and no one will question his competence. His main goal, get the President re-elected. He is perfectly suited for that task, having run presidential campaigns before. The choice, like Hillary for State, is brilliant.

Posted by: JuanBetancourt | January 6, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I am no fan of Bill Daley, nor was I fan of Leon Panetta who filled a similar role for Clinton when he made the decision to look more centrist. But I understand Dean's sentiments that the previous WH staff (who seemed to have a vendetta against him) were just not making the right tactical moves. As for Chait's views, I look at it the opposite way: What better way to capitalize on the extreme views of the right than to regain the support of moderates and independents.

As a devout liberal, frankly I am more thrilled to see Summers gone. He was a Wall Street tool, and as one commenter posted, Wall Street money poured into the R's. Sperling, while arguably a Wall Street guy, can create good ideas that have some heft with WS and people like me.

Posted by: oldwiseman | January 6, 2011 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Hey Ezra, what kind of an idiot would actually read the Constitution? LOL.

Posted by: soma_king | January 6, 2011 2:12 PM | Report abuse

The liberal "wisdom" on display here, both young (Klein) and old, demonstrates once again that for those on the Left, ideology will always trump rationality.

Thus Boehner and company will be well advised to resist any calls for compromise and bi-partisanship, no matter who this month's liberal mouthpiece may be. It's time to return control to those who do the work of creating wealth and who actually understand the details and principles of the Constitution.

To paraphrase somebody of barely modest significance, "We Won!"

Posted by: Bat1 | January 6, 2011 3:14 PM | Report abuse

juanbetancourt wrote:

"Look, this is not complicated: DADT is the most significant piece of Civil Rights legislation in a generation. It is the equivalent of Truman integrating the military;"

No it isn't anything remotely close. I'm guessing you're a young person or you would know that.

Posted by: 54465446 | January 6, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Daley is the prototypical Irish-American politician(his family ran Chicago well for decades) who can walk down the middle of the street rcognizing ,w/o agonizing over,that politics like life has unresolvable contradictions.

Posted by: cgconway | January 6, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Why does Obama always picks a person that brought us all these problems?

America needs to innovate from within..with heavy unemployment the government should cancel the following visas: H1-b, L1, OPT, EB1, EB2 and EB3 which allow foreigners to take American jobs. That's one way we can promote economic growth.
All I have to say is: the politicians that dreamed up NAFTA, CAFTA, and the like including outsourcing must have had rocks for brains to have ever thought those things would be good for our country. How in the world (no pun intended) could fair trade (what a joke) with all those other countries be good for us!!! It was the beginning of unemployment when those things were voted in. Our companies took off for the cheap labor, and our people lost their jobs. Personally, I would rather pay more for things and have Americans employed than to have cheap products from China that don't hold up for long anyway!!!!

Why is our government STILL bringing in 1.5 MILLION foreign workers a year?http://www.americanworker.org/ The vast majority of foreigners here on guestworker visas are ordinary white collar workers with common skill sets. Why, why, why????

http://www.youtube.com/user/crowdifornia

Posted by: debugger | January 6, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Why does Obama always picks a person that brought us all these problems?

America needs to innovate from within..with heavy unemployment the government should cancel the following visas: H1-b, L1, OPT, EB1, EB2 and EB3 which allow foreigners to take American jobs. That's one way we can promote economic growth.
All I have to say is: the politicians that dreamed up NAFTA, CAFTA, and the like including outsourcing must have had rocks for brains to have ever thought those things would be good for our country. How in the world (no pun intended) could fair trade (what a joke) with all those other countries be good for us!!! It was the beginning of unemployment when those things were voted in. Our companies took off for the cheap labor, and our people lost their jobs. Personally, I would rather pay more for things and have Americans employed than to have cheap products from China that don't hold up for long anyway!!!!

Why is our government STILL bringing in 1.5 MILLION foreign workers a year?http://www.americanworker.org/ The vast majority of foreigners here on guestworker visas are ordinary white collar workers with common skill sets. Why, why, why????

http://www.youtube.com/user/crowdifornia

Posted by: debugger | January 6, 2011 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Naming Daley as CofS is just a headfake. President Obama will govern from as far left as he can get away with and still get reelected.

Pamela wrote: "Well, judging by the amount of money Wall Street poured into republican campaigns, they don't share that perception." What revisionist history! Until quite recently, Wall Street was drinking the Obama Kool-Aid by the gallon. Wall Streeters loved the crony capitalism that President Obama offered. Why libs such as Pamela haven't caught on is beyond me. Perhaps they do and it's just another head fake.

Posted by: ElmerStoup | January 6, 2011 10:08 PM | Report abuse

michaelh81 : Dean is backing Daley for 2 reasons.

Actually there are three. His close friend Karen Finney is in the running for WH spokesperson and presumably Daley would have to sign off on that.

Posted by: bmull | January 7, 2011 2:44 AM | Report abuse

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