Thursday, January 6, 2011

William Daley, Chief of Staff? (Updated)

I’m in no position to evaluate the emerging conventional wisdom that William Daley is going to be Obama’s next Chief of Staff or to speculate authoritatively about what, if it does happen, that means for the future of the Obama presidency. As a general matter, I’m inclined to think that mainstream pundits tend to over-estimate the impact of personnel changes because they need to keep churning out copy and often have nothing better to write about. For what it’s worth, my general default assumption about personnel changes is plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

So if I had to put money on the table, I’d say that the future trajectory of an Obama administration with Daley will look pretty much as it would have looked if Rahm Emanuel had stayed on as Chief of Staff. After all, Emanuel and Daley have similar pedigrees—Chicago politics, investment banking and the Clinton Administration—similar skill sets that encompass the dark art of Clintonian triangulation and similar New Democratic ideologies. So naming Daley as Emanuel’s replacement is probably the best way for Obama to keep his senior staff the way it was.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Daley’s appointment won't say a lot about the future of the Obama presidency. Daley may not be very different from Emanuel in any material respect, but the fact that Obama is appointing Daley now speaks volumes about the way Obama regards the first two years of his presidency in retrospect.

Consider what, according to the New York Times, Daley has said about the passage of ObamaCare in this light (my emphasis):

“[Daley] thought the president and Democratic leaders in Congress overreached on some of their priorities in the last two years.

“‘They miscalculated on health care,’ Mr. Daley said in an interview last year with The New York Times. ‘The election of ’08 sent a message that after 30 years of center-right governing, we had moved to center left — not left.’

“A decision to bring Mr. Daley into the heart of the administration could further annoy Mr. Obama’s liberal base, who frequently accused Mr. Emanuel of encouraging the president to compromise on liberal principles to achieve legislative goals.”
Daley was only saying something in hindsight that Emanuel said in foresight at the beginning of the Obama administration, and repeated more emphatically after the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority in January 2010. A crucial fact, perhaps the crucial fact, about the first two years of the Obama presidency is that Obama decided not to follow Emanuel’s advice and cast his lot with Nancy Pelosi and his liberal base. If you’re looking for the deep meaning of the Daley appointment, it’s hard to see it as anything but an expression of regret on Obama’s part about that crucial decision.

So if, like Jonathan Chait, you see ObamaCare and things like it as the point of the Obama presidency, you have every reason to be dismayed at seeing Daley around the White House.

UpdateIt's official, Daley is the guy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like we should expect big things from Daley. Already press reports are saying Daley was responsible for Gibbs' exit. Also, sounds like Jarrett is the next to go. (What does she do anyway?)