The mystery of Bill Daley
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."
| January 6, 2011; 10:57 AM ET
Categories: Obama administration
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