Obama's Washington The O-List

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NOVEMBER 19, 2008

Obama's Washington The O-List

Obama has led a revolution within the Democratic Party, creating a
new establishment in his own ubiquitous image.

In the spring of 2007, long before Sarah Palin became a feminist
icon, before Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers reared their
unreconstructed heads, before Hillary Clinton ever questioned his
readiness to be president, Barack Obama's greatest nemesis was a
29-year-old paralegal named Joe Anthony. Anthony had attracted tens
of thousands of fans to a MySpace page he'd set up for Obama- -a
testament to the legions of new voters the candidate was inspiring.
But, back in Chicago, all Anthony's site inspired was indigestion.
The Obama brass worried about ceding control of the campaign's
image to the online hordes. And so, after a brief attempt at
coordination, they had MySpace put Anthony out of business.In the annals of U.S. history, Gettysburg this was not. But the
episode was a harbinger of things to come. The campaign spent much
of the primaries stiffing prominent blogs and online groups while
vacuuming up their readers and members. This spring, after Obama's
claim on the nomination became more or less ironclad, the campaign
discouraged donors from giving to the 527 groups that had
flourished since the late 1990s--effectively defunding much of the
party's independent infrastructure--and asked those same 527s not
to buy TV ads. (The campaign wanted donors concentrating dollars on
Obama.) Then, in June, Obama announced he was moving many
Democratic National Committee operations to Chicago, an
unprecedented swallowing of the party apparatus.

The consolidation had some obvious short-term effects. For example,
it made the party's message far more cohesive--and its mechanics
more efficient--than ever before. (Back in 2004, the Kerry campaign
frequently duplicated the efforts of the DNC and various
independent groups.)

But the consequences extend far beyond the recent election. Simply
put, the president-elect has led a revolution within the Democratic
Party, replacing an establishment long dominated by
Clintonites--and, more recently, by progressive bloggers and
billionaires--with a new establishment, one constructed in his own
ubiquitous image. This list represents our attempt at making sense
of the new hierarchy-- your guide to the men and women who will
dominate progressive politics in the Age of Obama. (A note about
methodology: We fashioned this list from dozens of background
conversations with the consultants, bureaucrats, politicos,
pollsters, and strategists whose livelihoods depend on their sixth
sense of the Washington power structure. There are sure to be
quibbles with the ranking--and perhaps some of the names. But it
represents, in the main, a broad professional consensus. That said,
let the carping begin!)

Just consider a few ways the new White House will be able to bypass
the traditional intermediaries. As of Election Day, Obama had north
of three million intensely loyal donors and perhaps some ten to 15
million online supporters, most of whose point of entry into
politics was the Obama campaign itself. Whenever the new president
decides to engage on a particular issue-- health care,
anyone?--Robert Gibbs, his likely counselor or communications
director, and David Plouffe, his would-be political director, will
be able to instantly summon a millions-strong army to mau-mau
legislators and the media.

For that matter, the press may suffer a fate worse than mau-mauing.
The Obama campaign's grassroots strength made it less reliant on
the press than any in recent memory. It's hard to imagine that
changing once you add the megaphone of the White House. Shut out
and with no Bush to bash, stalwarts of the emerging lefty
media--such as the employees of msnbc president Phil Griffin--
could easily turn on their hero.

Or take fund-raising. It's been estimated that, if Obama wanted to
back a statewide candidate, he could raise $3 million with a single
e-mail. That's against anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million from
MoveOn.org, the reigning online champion, according to the blogger
Matt Stoller.

Already, it's hard to find a newly elected Democrat in Washington
who doesn't partly owe his seat to Obama's money and machine. Even
Democrats from conservative Southern districts--a perennial
nuisance to incoming presidents-- owe some of their expanded ranks
to the massive black turnout Obama attracted. How do these people
resist when Obama (or, more precisely, Obama fixers like Valerie
Jarrett and Pete Rouse) comes looking for votes?

It's certainly tough to imagine them feeling overly solicitous of
the Capitol's current powerbrokers--people like Harry Reid and
Chuck Schumer. Instead, it will be men like Rahm Emanuel and Dick
Durbin--legislators with longstanding ties to Obamaland--who chart
the party's course on Capitol Hill. (As of this writing, Emanuel is
the favorite to be White House chief of staff.)

The Old Washington dons who matter most under Obama are likely to be
those refugees from the establishment who signed up with him early.
The inner circle of former congressional leader Tom Daschle chafed
at the way the Clintonites clung to power deep into the Bush era.
Daschle endorsed Obama in February of 2007, and now he's a
candidate for a top administration job. John Kerry's closest
supporters still seethe at the slights they believe he suffered at
the hands of the Clintons. Many of Kerry's top fund-raisers and
policy aides now populate Obamaland. The senator himself, who gave
Obama a critical endorsement in January, is a candidate for
secretary of state.

Which is not to say the old establishment will be shut out entirely.
Far from it. The federal government is simply too vast, and Obama's
existing reservoir of manpower too shallow, to govern without them.
(Obama is distinctly lacking in cronies he could plausibly install
in the top echelons of his administration.) Indeed, if Obama fails
to impose his will on Washington, the labyrinthine bureaucracy will
likely be the place he falls short. He'd hardly be the first
self-proclaimed outsider to overlook how a well-connected deputy
assistant secretary can bring an entire administration to its
knees.

The Clintonites in particular will have outsized influence in
Obama's bureaucratic ranks, given how much of the party's economics
and foreign policy know-how resides with them. That helps explain
why Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, two proteges of Robert Rubin,
Clinton's economic godfather, are leading candidates to head the
Treasury Department. And why former Clintonites like James
Steinberg and Greg Craig may end up running Obama's national
security apparatus.

The catch is that the reborn Clintonites have largely accommodated
themselves to the Obama era, rather than vice versa. For example, in
the '90s, Rubinomics meant balanced budgets and freer trade.
Summers has spent the last few years sounding the alarm about wage
inequality and raising questions about the current system of
international trade.

In many ways, Obama's takeover represents another triumph of the
campaign's central strategic insight: that it's always easier to
tilt the landscape to your advantage than to charge into unfriendly
terrain. In early 2007, the Obama brain trust realized it had
little chance of besting Hillary Clinton in Iowa if traditional
caucus-goers were the only ones who showed. So it resolved to
expand the electorate by tens of thousands of more sympathetic
Iowans--young people, liberals, independents.

In the same way, Obama hasn't seized power from the traditional
Democratic establishment so much as created a new on-the-ground
reality--almost ten million newly registered voters, in addition to
all those donors and online supporters-- that has remade American
politics. That rustling sound you hear is the last of the last of
the old-time party hacks rushing to get on board.

David Axelrod

Chief strategist, Obama campaign

1 At first, he professed no interest in trailing his guy to
Washington. But that's increasingly hard to believe. That doesn't
mean Obama's message manager will follow the Karl Rove path,
surrendering his lucrative consulting business for an official
post. He might take the James Carville tack: work for the DNC but
be omnipresent in the Oval Office. Although Axelrod doesn't do
policy, his knack for strategy will shape the key decision of the
administration: Will Obama go for broke or play it safe? And
there's little doubt he'll always have four digits on his mind:
2012.

Rahm Emanuel

House member, Illinois

2 He could be the Dick Cheney of the Obama administration--the heavy
with his hands in everything. Like Cheney, Rahmbo is respected,
feared, and a formidable wonk. Emanuel might make an attractive
chief of staff because of his reputation for fierce loyalty and his
ability to corral the House Democrats. Those in Congress who don't
owe their jobs to him are terrified of him. That pick, like so much
of Obama's world, would bear Axelrod's fingerprints: Ax signed the
ketubah at Emanuel's wedding.

Valerie Jarrett

CEO, Habitat Co.; senior adviser, Obama campaign

3 The rap on Obama is that he's low on hardcore loyalists capable of
serving in top positions. That's what makes Jarrett so essential.
During the campaign, they spoke daily--and she served as
strategist, ambassador, and enforcer. With Obama's increasing
reliance on old Washington--and Clinton--hands, he'll need at least
one guardian of his interests in the room. There's talk of making
her secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but trouble at some
Habitat-managed housing projects could make her confirmation
hearing messy. Obama is more likely to want her floating around the
White House.

Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House

4 If Obama fails early, the unruly House Democrats would be the most
likely cause. Conservative Dems--and they are plentiful these
days--will want Obama to balance his budgets; liberals will be
aching for maximalism on all fronts; and 2010-focused worrywarts in
the leadership will cry for caution. That means the fate of Obama's
presidency will largely rest with Madame Speaker's disciplinary
skills. Fortunately, she's a true pitbull with lipstick. More fixer
and tactician than San Francisco idealist, she will haunt the
backrooms, cutting deals and threatening to cut off legs.

Tom Daschle

Former Senate majority leader,

South Dakota

5 The former majority leader didn't just bet early on Obama; he lent
him his establishment imprimatur and his entire political
operation, which proved to include some of the campaign's most
innovative strategists. Since leaving the Senate, Daschle has
turned himself into a health care maven. He may not have won the
chief of staff job he so coveted--his wife's lobbying made for
terrible optics--but he could still end up in the White House, or
as secretary of Health and Human Services. Either way, he's sure to
be among the central figures in shaping one of Obama's top
priorities. (And his wife won't be hurting for clients.)

Larry Summers

Managing director, D.E. Shaw & Co.

6 The best economic mind in the party, his credibility with the
Democratic base has grown in recent months. His must-read columns
in the Financial Times have evinced a leftward turn in his
thinking. And, unlike Rubin, the financial meltdown actually
reflects well upon his last tour in Washington. If Obama doesn't
send him back to Treasury--that job could also go to his protege,
Tim Geithner--he might be called upon to replace Bernanke at the
Fed in 2010.

General David Petraeus

Commander, U.S. Central Command

7 Petraeus is a master politician--hence the buzz about him running
for the White House someday. For the past few months, he has been
back-channeling to Obama, building a working relationship. It helps
that their positions on both Afghanistan and Iraq have begun to
converge. The surge's success has bolstered Petraeus's cred, so
Obama will want the general's blessing for his strategy--or, at
least, try to avoid a public confrontation with him. An
antagonistic relationship would propel Petraeus to the top of the
GOP's wish list for 2012.

Joe Biden

Vice president-elect

8 Biden has eschewed the fool's errands that doom most vice
presidents: Reinventing government! Regulatory reform! He has given
himself a Cheney-size portfolio and wants to have the president's
ear on everything. His most obvious area of interest will be
foreign policy, where his views run more hawkish than Obama's. An
interesting first test of Biden's clout: Can he find jobs for like-
minded Democratic diplomats like Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross?

Robert Gibbs

Communications director, Obama campaign

9 If the press corps doesn't exactly love the guy, who cares? He has
run a leakproof ship, won overwhelmingly positive coverage of his
candidate, and proved a steely spinmeister on television. He should
have Karen Hughes-like stature in the White House, as
communications director or senior counselor. Gibbs joined up with
Obama back in 2004, well before the hype began, and the laconic
Southerner is famously fearless when dispensing advice to his boss.

David Plouffe

Manager, Obama campaign

10 Obamaland is a hegemonic power--it devours every institution it
cannot control. Plouffe is the political geek who built it from
scratch, with his savant-like knowledge of demographics and
electoral rules. Now that Obama controls the lever of government,
that campaign apparatus isn't going anywhere. He could become the
DNC's new executive director--or run the White House political
operation. Whether he's at 1600 or not, count on Plouffe to bolster
the administration's legislative agenda by using Obama's massive
donor base to reward friendly congressmen.

John Podesta

President and CEO, Center for American Progress

11 How convenient that the head of the transition happens to have
his own wonk-filled think tank! His Center for American Progress
(CAP) has been prepping the talent and white papers for a
Democratic administration for the past five years (see "The Shadow
President," page 26, for more on CAP). Though the ex-Bill Clinton
chief of staff has said he'll return to CAP after the transition,
he'll have proteges in every corner of the administration. (That
his brother is a top Democratic lobbyist earns him bonus power
points.)

James Steinberg

Dean, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

12 You don't know him. But he could be the guy running your foreign
policy-- or, at least, the National Security Council. A veteran of
the Clinton NSC, he doesn't court the press, write many op-eds, or
even live in D.C. (He's been teaching in Texas for the last three
years.) But he's a trusted technocrat whom Obama increasingly leans
upon. If Kerry lands at State, he could be an important
counterweight, pushing Obama in a more centrist direction.

Pete Rouse

Chief of staff, Obama's Senate office

13 After Tom Daschle's defeat in 2004, he gifted Obama his savviest
veteran staffer--perhaps the most effective aide on the Hill.
Rouse, a legendary workaholic, helped Obama navigate his brief time
in the Senate with an eye toward launching his presidential bid.
After he finishes overseeing the transition, Rouse will likely
return to the Hill--this time as Obama's top lobbyist.

Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee

Economic policy director and chief economic adviser, Obama campaign

14/15 The twin lobes of Obama's economic brain. Professor Goolsbee
has the economic chops, but doesn't always get politics (witness
his legendary nafta gaffe). Furman, a protege of Robert Rubin, is
the cream of the Democratic policy-wonk crop--and, unlike most
other tax nerds, he's politically canny. Both are essentially
centrists--Furman has defended free trade and even (sacre bleu!)
Wal-Mart--but the policies they've helped author during the
campaign have earned Obama the trust of the left. In Obama's
efforts to dig out of the recession, they'll design the shovels.

Dick Durbin

Senator, Illinois

16 It was telling that Obama asked Durbin to introduce the biggest
speech of his career, back in Denver. Along with Claire McCaskill,
he is the president's staunchest ally in the Senate, a total
loyalist. That's a good thing for Obama, because the well-liked
Durbin is the second most powerful Democrat there. Durbin will
confront one problem with the Senate Democrats: They all believe
they have more experience than that upstart president.

John Kerry

Senator, Massachusetts

17 According to the rumor mill, Kerry traded his primary endorsement
of Obama in return for the secretary of state gig. That would be a
selection bound to provoke controversy with moderate Democrats, not
to mention Republicans eager to frame Obama as soft. (Kerry wasn't
tough enough to defend himself from the Swifties!) If he doesn't
join the administration, the omnipresent surrogate could become
head of the Senate banking committee--and the author of legislation
creating the next regulatory state.

Eric Holder

Former deputy attorney general of the United States

18 His role in the pardoning of Marc Rich and the Elian Gonzalez
fiasco made him a favorite whipping boy of the right. But he's
racked up serious wise-man points since serving as Clinton's deputy
attorney general, getting tapped for all sorts of supersensitive
missions--from investigating Michael Vick's dog- fighting for the
NFL to co-heading Obama's veep search. Could a Justice Department
appointment be far behind? The man known as "The Heartthrob" at
U.S. Superior Court during his prosecutor days will need all his
charm during that confirmation battle.

Andy Stern

President, Service Employees International Union

19 The only real powerhouse left in the House of Labor, he has kept
seiu growing as other unions shrank. His people endorsed Obama
early, and, with his man in the White House, Stern stands to be the
go-to guy on issues of economic security. The animating notion of
Obama's domestic policy is the creation of an economy that rewards
work instead of wealth. Stern will be making sure that his
hard-working union members get what Obama owes them.

Hillary Clinton

Senator, New York

20 Many people suspected she would do the bare minimum, and no more,
to elect her erstwhile rival. By energetically stumping for Obama,
she put those fears to bed. But how will she play the next four
years? She can transform herself into a latter-day Ted Kennedy, a
legislative maestro. (Thanks to Podesta, she'll have plenty of her
former worker bees in top administration positions.) Or she can
wait to see if Obama falls on his face, positioning her for one
last run at the White House.

Tim Geithner

President, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

21 One way or another, he'll be crucial to remaking the U.S.
financial system--either at the Treasury Department or from his
current perch. A smooth operator who's made humility his disarming
modus operandi, he'll be called on to craft reforms and then sell
them to Wall Street. The banks might get rolled, but at least
they'll feel like they've been heard. (See "Obama's Choice," page
23, for more on Geithner.)

Al Gore

Chairman, Alliance for Climate Protection

22 Obama may have run on the greenest platform in decades, but the
former veep took pains not to get too involved in the campaign--a
reticence that may point to his skepticism of Obama's environmental
bona fides. That means an EPA slot or climate-czar role looks
unlikely. Instead, he'll be the looming conscience of the party: If
Obama edges away from his promise to pass a stringent cap on
greenhouse gases, the Goreacle could use his new $300 million
grassroots "We" campaign to publicly push him back to the green.

Greg Craig

Senior foreign policy adviser, Obama campaign; partner, Williams &
Connolly

23 One of the most loyal Clintonistas--he was Bill's lawyer during
impeachment and served in his State Department--and one of the first
to defect to Obama, Craig added insult to injury when he offered a
devastating point-by- point rebuttal to Hillary's inflated claims
of foreign policy experience (sniper fire, et al.). He's such a
true believer that Obama calls him a "Kool- Aid boy"--and now he's
on the shortlist for jobs as prized as White House counsel or
national security adviser.

Nicolas Sarkozy

President, France

24 Sarkozy's chief ambition is to make France powerful again. And
he's found l'Americain to partner with. After Sarko's rapturous
meeting with Obama in July ("You must want a cigarette after that,"
Maureen Dowd teased Obama), Mr. Pro- America became even more
pro-Obama. (Key bonding point: They are both sons of immigrants who
busted ethnic monopolies on power.) Sarkozy is poised to be to
Obama as Blair was to Clinton and Bush--the first foreign leader
consulted in an international crisis, the honored guest at the most
lavish state dinners. One potential hitch: According to Haaretz,
Sarko doesn't especially like Obama's plans for sitting down with
Tehran.

Cassandra Butts

Senior adviser, Obama campaign

25 Funny who you can meet in the financial aid office. During his
first year at Harvard Law, Obama hit it off there with Butts.
Twenty years later, this Hill veteran (Butts advised Dick Gephardt)
signed up as Team Obama's all-around domestic policy guru. Working
from her outpost at CAP, she already has played a big role in
doling out jobs in Obamaland. Now, one could be coming her way:
chief domestic policy adviser.

Julius Genachowski

Co-founder and managing director, Rock Creek Ventures

26 Obama has advisers he trusts deeply (Valerie Jarrett) and
ambassadors to the D.C. establishment (Tom Daschle), but precious
few people who overlap in these sets. That's why he needs Harvard
Law Review pal and former FCC staffer Genachowski, who's been a key
adviser and fund-raiser since the start of Obama's political
career. It's widely assumed that Obama will name his tech- savvy
friend, who was also a top exec at Barry Diller's Internet company,
to be chairman of the FCC, or to the newly created cabinet position
of chief technology officer.

Joel Benenson

Founding partner, Benenson Strategy Group

27 Not that many folks in Washington had heard of the New York-based
pollster before the Obama campaign. (Like Axelrod, he used to be a
daily newspaper reporter.) But he edged aside a crowded internal
group to become a regular presence in debate prep and strategy
sessions. Despite Obama's loud protestations that he pays little
attention to polls, Benenson will remain in Axelrod's tightest
circle.

Susan Rice

Senior foreign policy adviser, Obama campaign

28 She latched onto the campaign early--and took to the airwaves to
defend it often. A Rhodes Scholar, former State Department hand,
and soft-power evangelist, she opposed the Iraq war--a stance that
alienated her from many of her old comrades in the Clinton
administration. Because of the longevity of her relationship with
Obama, early money had her trodding the path beaten by another
African American woman named Rice to national security adviser. But
some question whether she's too ideological to play the role of
honest policy broker--a concern that might steer Obama toward
placing her in a top job at the State Department instead.

Penny Pritzker

Chair, Classic Residence by Hyatt

29 Every president gets one freebie cabinet appointment to install a
best pal. Bush stuck Don Evans at Commerce. Chatter has the Hyatt
Hotel heiress filling that role. She was an early Obama
patron--causing some of his old Chicago rivals to portray him as a
puppet of the Jews. This race, Obama's national finance chair did
her own version of the great schlep, vouching for him with
skeptical bubbes and zeides.

Phil Griffin

President, msnbc

30 He's the man who unleashed Olbermann and Maddow--and made msnbc
the left's answer to Fox. It's been ratings gold, but the Obama
administration poses a slew of knotty dilemmas: Will Olbermann and
Maddow defend the administration against its critics? Or will they
fulminate when it inevitably disappoints Obama's lefty fans? By all
accounts Griffin, recently described as a "hippie," isn't exactly a
disciplinarian. Olbermann once declared, "Phil thinks he's my
boss."

The Buddy List

Marty Nesbitt

Founder and CEO, Parking Spot

Barack's BFF shares the same sports obsession (basketball), the same
neighborhood (Hyde Park), and the same backyard BBQ pal (Valerie
Jarrett). While Nesbitt, Obama's campaign treasurer, delivered the
bucks, his wife, Anita Blanchard, who is Michelle's obstetrician,
delivered the kids.

Dr. Eric Whitaker

Executive vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center

Yet another intimate from Obama's days at Harvard, from which the
good doctor earned a degree in public health. A frequent trail
traveler, Whitaker is said to be adept at reading Obama. Think of
him as an early warning system for Barack's bad moods.

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