As President Barack Obama enters the second half of his term, his dreamy honeymoon with Congress and the American public long over, what a relief to see the sensible William Daley at his side. Daley has the experience to excel at one of the nation’s toughest jobs. And yes, he’s a pro-business Democrat, which galls the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
This choice for chief of staff is primarily based on competence and Washington experience, but it probably reflects a shift in the White House’s approach to government too.
Daley played that role for President Bill Clinton, both as unofficial problem-solver and as commerce secretary. Daley was key to winning congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He’s a political centrist who has warned Democrats that their left wing is out of touch with much of the nation.
Obama seems to recognize that his business-bashing rhetoric of the last two years made him look small-minded and undermined the confidence of job-creators. Daley, who leaves a senior executive post at JPMorgan Chase, understands that businesses small and large ― yes, even Wall Street banks ― are not the enemy. America depends on hiring and investment to jump-start an economy that is just beginning to create jobs again. Employers need to gain confidence in an administration that has pummeled them with an onslaught of new regulation.
It’s fitting that Obama’s announcement came just ahead of Friday’s government employment report, which is expected to show progress: This is the ideal time for the pragmatic younger brother of Chicago’s mayor to extend an olive branch and help get business moving again.
Daley’s selection also signals a willingness to compromise in the interest of avoiding legislative gridlock. That’s a simple bow to reality: Republicans control the House. The calm, understated Daley should help to head off distracting political battles.
This isn’t a desperate moment for Obama, but it’s certainly a risky one. The liberals who think he’s too conservative are outnumbered by centrists and conservatives who perceive him as a leftist outlier. Thus Obama has entrusted to Daley three urgent imperatives:
― For the health of the body politic ― and for his own re-election prospects ― Obama needs to try to claim (or at least calm) the political center.
― The president needs to show progress in taming the runaway federal budget deficit and national debt.
― And he needs to succeed in implementing his health care and financial-services reform legislation, without messing up two of our most important industries.
That agenda will be difficult, but less so with Bill Daley darting in and out of the Oval Office.
(The Chicago Tribune, Jan. 7)