The triumph of party
The White House is hiring or promoting an awful lot of Clinton people. But it's worth noting that the sum total of Clinton people serving in top slots isn't really changing. Bill Daley is replacing Rahm Emanuel, who was Clinton's senior adviser for policy and strategy. Bruce Reed is replacing Ron Klain, who was Clinton's associate counsel before becoming Al Gore's chief of staff. Gene Sperling is replacing Larry Summers, who was Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. Jack Lew replaced Peter Orszag, who was special assistant to Clinton for economic policy.
I do think the White House is making a particular effort to gather the Clinton people associated with both the policy and political successes Clinton had -- or at least is perceived to have had, as it'd have been hard to look bad amid an economy so good -- against the Republican Congress. At the same time, you don't want to overread that: It's also clear that the White House simply prizes experience, and if you're looking for executive-branch experience and you're a Democrat, you don't have all that many administrations to choose from. President Carter's team is getting a little long in the tooth.
It's all a reminder, though, that party often matters a lot more than candidates do. Thinking back to the primary, Barack Obama was the guy who was going to transform Washington and chart an alternative to Clintonism and prioritize energy reform and wrest foreign policy away from the class of Democrats who had mucked it all up so badly. His was supposed to be a new, or at least somewhat different, Democratic Party than we'd seen in the '90s.
But then he got to Washington, sat down with the people who seemed to know what they were doing, and found that moving his agenda meant playing by the town's rules, that the people with the most relevant experience to the tasks he needed done were mostly Clinton veterans, that the voters weren't there for energy but were potentially there for health care, and that it made sense for him to put Hillary Clinton herself in the top foreign-policy slot. It's hard to imagine that Hillary Clinton or John Edwards would've done anything all that differently. For all the sound and fury of the primary, the state of the party and of the country told you a lot more about who would be in charge and what they'd be doing than did the rhetoric of the candidates.
That's not meant as a criticism or an endorsement, really. I tend to be sympathetic to that type of institutional pragmatism: The White House isn't a great place to try and wing it. And certainly the specific priorities and tendencies of the president matter for how all this machinery gets used, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. But it's really strange to sit back today and try to recall what the bitter fights between Clinton supporters and Obama supporters were all about.
Photo credit: White House.
| January 14, 2011; 5:44 PM ET
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