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Posted at 11:59 AM ET, 01/14/2011

The White House brings in Bruce Reed

By Ezra Klein

reedandsperling.JPG

I've not paid much attention to the resignation of Ron Klain, Chief of Staff to the Vice President. But now that Biden has named Bruce Reed to replace him, I'm a bit more interested.

Reed -- who is pictured at right, standing alongside Gene Sperling -- is the keeper of the flame for the Third Way technocracy that flowered in the Clinton years. He was chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council, head of the Domestic Policy Council in the Clinton White House and executive director of the fiscal commission. He's known as one of the smartest policy minds on the center-left, but "center-left" should really be in bold type in that sentence: He's not just a policy wonk, but a policy entrepreneur, and his long-term project has been persuading Democrats to chart a more centrist, market-friendly approach.

According to the news release, Reed's full title will be "Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the Vice President," and it's very easy to imagine Reed having a substantial role in the White House's daily policy discussions. In fact, it's hard to imagine him not having such a role. Reed knows how to navigate the bureaucracy, he's well-respected both inside the White House and in Washington more broadly, and the administration wouldn't bring in one of the most important and experienced Democratic policy advisers of the last 30 years if it didn't plan to put his expertise to use.

Reed's role further doubles down on the decision to install Bill Daley as chief of staff. Daley, who joined the board of the DLC-esque Third Way last year, is the organizational incarnation of Reed: Where Reid was the most successful policy adviser associated with the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, Daley was one of the most successful managers associated with the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. That they've both been named to crucial positions in the past few weeks -- as has Clinton's former NEC director, Gene Sperling -- suggests that the administration has decided to make a clear shift toward the types of policy and strategic thinking that came to define the Clinton presidency.

For more on Reed, here's a list of his publications for the DLC. Here's an archive of the column he wrote for Slate. Here's the policy manifesto he co-authored with Rahm Emanuel.

Photo credit: By Susan Biddle/The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  | January 14, 2011; 11:59 AM ET
Categories:  Obama administration  
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Comments

im genuinely excited. we've seen the pursuit of liberal goals using center-left policies over the last 2 years. Now we're gonna see centrist means in pursuit of center right policies. I wasn't old enough to fully absorb the Clinton years. So, i'll have a chance to judge for myself.
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The one thing im thankful for is that those in charge wont be hurling charges of non-patriotism and treason at their political opponents. Even when Obama enrages me with his capitulations, im still grateful the adults are in charge.

Posted by: lupercal1 | January 14, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

im genuinely excited. we've seen the pursuit of liberal goals using center-left policies over the last 2 years. Now we're gonna see centrist means in pursuit of center right policies. I wasn't old enough to fully absorb the Clinton years. So, i'll have a chance to judge for myself.
.
The one thing im thankful for is that those in charge wont be hurling charges of non-patriotism and treason at their political opponents. Even when Obama enrages me with his capitulations, im still grateful the adults are in charge.

Posted by: lupercal1 | January 14, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

"the administration wouldn't bring in one of the most important and experienced Democratic policy advisers of the last 30 years if it didn't plan to put his expertise to use."

Well, they brought in Paul Volcker, who has a hell of a lot more stature than Bruce Reed, and then proceeded to ignore him.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration does seem to be preparing to party like it's 1995. School uniforms, anyone?

Posted by: rt42 | January 14, 2011 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Just in case anyone didn't get the message of "continuity you can believe in." So much for a transformative presidency.

Posted by: michaelh81 | January 14, 2011 2:49 PM | Report abuse

If the Dear Leader appointed Bernie Madoff to the post Ezra would fall all over himself praising the bold move that it was. Ezra knows nothing about everything. It's a good thing that the Post has hired him. How's that dwindling circulation number looking WaPo??

Posted by: jellymon | January 14, 2011 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Sigh. DLC is simply a way for corporations to undermine the well-being of the American people using Democrats instead of Republicans. It's my sincere hope that Bruce Reid's role is to carry the Vice-President's luggage. And no more.

And public ass-kiss by Ezra, duly noted. The Village will continue to bless you, Ezra, as you sell out. Stop now. Please.

Posted by: Dollared | January 14, 2011 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh geez ... next they're going to hire Harold Ford and James Carville.

lupercal1, I'm not really sure what you're so excited about. If you were upset by Obama's capitulations on center-left policies, you're really not going to like centrism. I'll quote Paul Krugman and say "Centrism is for suckers."

I'm sure all these new hires are deep-down well-intentioned people, but this "centrist," business friendly course is B.S. with a capital B.S. It may very well be a good way to shore up campaign donations from the Wall Street crowd. But, it's a terrible way for Democrats to win elections (e.g. the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections). Why vote Republican "lite" when you can just vote Republican?

Moreover, as a matter of policymaking, I have no qualms with "compromise" and am not one of those "purists" that Obama likes to deride. But, centrism starts from an already-compromised position and moves right from there. And it has nothing to do with making GOOD policy, yet everything to do with appeasement for appeasement's sake. Reed's claim to fame is Welfare Reform from the '90s and was designed as a way to preempt a Republican gutting of the program. It might have made for good politics in 1996 (who likes freeloading poor people and Welfare Queens in their Cadillacs?), but (a) it'd be nice if at least one party was there to advocate for the poor and (b) it didn't stop the GOP from continuing to oust the Clinton administration from power through political scandals and independent prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the brainchildren of centrism are mostly uber-wealthy and banker-friendly (if not bankers themselves). So, instead of blatantly robbing the cookie jar under a GOP administration, a centrist administration is subtler and just "business friendly." Hence, we should expect to see more things banksters like, including less regulation and bank-friendly policies a la repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Also, thank Wikipedia for this one: "Reed is the author of the taunt, 'change you can Xerox,' from the February 21, 2008 presidential primary debate in Austin, Texas. Reed supplied Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton with the phrase to invoke accusations of plagiarism against rival Senator Barack Obama while parodying his campaign slogan: 'Change you can believe in.'" Oh, what wit!

Posted by: pbasso_khan | January 14, 2011 3:23 PM | Report abuse

"School uniforms, anyone?"

I was going to say midnight basketball, but that just reminded me of how crime sure isn't a political issue right now ...

"Why vote Republican "lite" when you can just vote Republican?"

Oh no... we're already gearing up for Nader part II in 2016? The lesson there I thought was more and *better* Democrats.

"So, instead of blatantly robbing the cookie jar under a GOP administration, a centrist administration is subtler and just "business friendly.""

There's a difference here between "what is" and "what ought to be." If the choice is between corruption/effing the poor/starting expensive wars and a well-run government that's friendly to business, I'd choose the later. And, I think that given the politics right now, that's the choice Dems have.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't work to change minds, advocate for non-centrist policies, try to elect a more lefty Congress -- those things can more easily be done and are more effective than criticizing personnel choices -- choices that *only* serve to give a Democratic president more political breathing room in the coming two years. (Now, if he starts pushing for tax reform that is GOP-lite or whatnot, that's totally worth going after)...

Posted by: Chris_ | January 14, 2011 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Chris_, as someone who voted for Nader in 2000 as a 20 year old (I supported John McCain in his 2000 primary, so try and figure that out) (I was 20, what do you want?), I'd like to think I've grown and certainly no longer buy into the "there's no difference between the parties" meme. And, yes, given a choice, I'd certainly take the lesser of two evils.

But, I respectfully disagree with your point that "what is" is "THE choice Dems have." (emphasis mine).

It's the calculation this administration has CHOSEN to make. And in doing so, they appear to have bought into the narrative that they pushed too far to the left and that they were just a bunch of tree-hugging, tax and spend liberals. As Ezra highlighted, Bill Daley has said he thinks health care reform went too far to left. So, passing what was fundamentally (and originally) the GOP health care plan to preserve the insurance market is suddenly too leftist? Presumably, Daley would have advised against even trying.

It's the politics of appeasement. It's the politics of not making waves --- notwithstanding the size of the problems staring us in the face.

Obama is going to be using these corporatist advisers to help pull a Welfare Reform 2.0: He wants to "reform" Social Security and he wants to "reform" the tax code. And to do this, he wants to build off of what his purportedly bipartisan fiscal commission came up with (or didn't or whatever it did). In other words, he wants to preempt GOP action on these items. In doing so, I predict he buys into the GOP narrative, e.g. (a) that Social Security is in need of reform (even though at its fundamentals it's doing fine) and (b) that taxes rates are high and should come down because they can never ever ever go up --- or else.

What "ought to be" will never "be" as long as Democrats keep learning the wrong lesssons. Yes, we need more and "better" Democrats. These DLC/Third Way advisers strike me as a harbinger of "worse" Democrats to come.

Posted by: pbasso_khan | January 14, 2011 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree with you in principle ... the Daley stuff gets me all riled up. BUT Im not sure the positions are as influential as you think. Its pretty clear Pelosi was the one running the HCR show ... Obama/ Baucus were the ones effing it up. Pelosi won; but that doesn't mean Obama wasn't a centrist all along. *Continuing to hire and support centrists* is a given. The fact it now gives Obama more political leeway is a plus.

The policy stuff you outlined is where the battles should be fought, not here.

Posted by: Chris_ | January 14, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree with you in principle ... the Daley stuff gets me all riled up. BUT Im not sure the positions are as influential as you think. Its pretty clear Pelosi was the one running the HCR show ... Obama/ Baucus were the ones effing it up. Pelosi won; but that doesn't mean Obama wasn't a centrist all along. *Continuing to hire and support centrists* is a given. The fact it now gives Obama more political leeway is a plus.

The policy stuff you outlined is where the battles should be fought, not here.

Posted by: Chris_ | January 14, 2011 6:49 PM | Report abuse

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