The Daley Show

by Jonathan Chait | January 6, 2011

This is a post about potential White House chief of staff Bill Daley, but to understand the problem with Daley, you have to understand Mitch McConnell. Here's a bit from Josh Green's excellent profile of the Republican Senate leader:

“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”

I've long thought this is McConnell's key insight, his most important contribution to American politics. One historic restraint on Congressional partisanship has been the fear of appearing extreme or partisan -- if we all oppose the president, the public will turn against us. McConnell understands that this fear, while not nonexistent, is overblown for two reasons. First, people hold presidents and not Congress responsible for outcomes. Second, voters -- and especially swing voters -- do not understand the ideological basis for disagreement. They believe that problems ought to be solved harmoniously, and that the lack of harmony signals the process has gone badly wrong. Put these two insights together, and you have a strategy for using obstruction as a powerful tool to lower presidential popularity.

Now, on to Daley. Here is Daley's critique of Obama:

“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.”

And here is Ezra Klein's persuasive response:

The health-care law the president signed was modeled off of the health-care law the Republican governor of Massachusetts had signed, which was in turn modeled off of the health-care law the Republicans in Congress had proposed in 1993. That's "left"? And meanwhile, Daley thinks the country had moved substantially leftward over that period -- "after 30 years of center-right governing, we had moved to center left" -- but that even a compromise bill based on Republican ideas was too far left for the country, which would imply that the administration he served in the early-'90s, which pushed a more ambitious health-care bill when the country was further to the right, bordered on communist.

And there is the problem. I don't know what easy method there is to respond to McConnell's tactics. But Daley's method, allowing extreme positions to redefine the parameters of the debate, is almost surely the wrong way.

I think liberal criticism of some potential Obama nominees is overblown -- the fact that Gene Sperling got paid a lot of Wall Street money to run a charitable program doesn't bother me. But putting a figure like Daley in a position of strategic importance seems like a major blunder.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/80961/the-daley-show