Saturday, January 08, 2011
For a while there, I was worried that Barack Obama might actually be content to be a one-term president so long as he could say he accomplished what he set out to do.
I'm not worried anymore. Not after Thursday's announcement that William Daley will be the new chief of staff.
Liberals are reportedly not happy with the selection. They view Daley, who has flat-out said that Democrats win from the center and is a board member of the moderate "Third Way" think tank, as too conservative and too closely tied to Wall Street and the business community. Not me. For those of us more interested in winning than in labels, who know that being right and losing gets you nothing, Daley is the perfect choice.
I first met Daley back during the 1984 campaign, when -- as teenagers, of course -- we sat together on the Mondale campaign plane. Here are three things you need to know about Bill Daley. First, he is extraordinarily smart. Second, he was born into politics and understands it at every level of his being. Third, he is a good man, a man of principle, strong values and integrity. He commands respect and loyalty. He is a grownup with good judgment. He doesn't lose it. And he doesn't like losing.
In choosing Daley, Obama reached out to one of the most skilled, best connected and most experienced political operatives out there, a guy who knows how to run things and win campaigns -- and who also knows how divisions and disunity can turn potentially winning campaigns into losing ones.
There are lots of things the Obama administration has done that I don't agree with, and probably just as many things they haven't done but (in my book) should have. When I talk to friends and former students in the administration, I have no problem mentioning such concerns.
But Obama is not only my president because I'm an American, but also because I'm a Democrat. And if Obama is to win re-election (no small feat; Bill Clinton is the only Democrat to win re-election since FDR), he can only do it by leading a party that is both united and positioned to win the votes of a majority of Americans.
"We must acknowledge that the left's agenda has not won the support of a majority of Americans -- and, based on that recognition, we must steer a more moderate course," Daley said last year in joining the board of the Third Way. He is from the old school of politics that allows you to be friends with your opponents, to have a drink together at the end of the day, to try to find ways toward compromise and common ground.
That's hard to hear if you're a liberal who worked your heart out to elect Obama because you believed he would pursue precisely that agenda (and to a large extent has). But it's music if you look at last November's election results as a reflection of public disgust with partisanship gone wild and public concern about big government being out of control.
The reason Clinton was re-elected in 1996 was because he made essential changes in his approach to governing after the disastrous 1994 midterm. Triangulation is a fancy way of saying the president moved back to the middle, positioning himself as the check on the Gingrich Republicans. And it worked.
The question since November has been whether this president is willing to make his own set of essential changes after the disastrous 2010 midterms. The choice of Bill Daley not only suggests that he is, but means that he will.
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