The latest murmurings about White House staff changes point to the continuation of President Obama’s move to the center, dictated by a desire to be reelected amid popular discontent with the sharp leftward turn of his first two years.
Obama is considering William Daley, brother of the departing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, to be chief of staff. And the Treasury Department’s Gene Sperling is rumored to have the mojo behind his back in the contest to replace Larry Summers as National Economic Council Director, a job he also did for Bill Clinton.
Both Daley and Sperling are products of the moderate – relative to Obamaism, in any case – economic program of the Clinton administration. Obama talks about bipartisanship, but Clinton actually promulgated and fought for real live policies that encouraged it.
During Sperling’s previous White House tenure, as deputy National Economic Council Director during Clinton’s first term and as its director in the second, Clinton pursued welfare reform and struck a balanced budget agreement with Republicans.
Daley was Clinton’s White House point man on NAFTA during 1993 and then served as Commerce Secretary during Clinton’s second term, pushing a strong pro-business trade agenda.
I dealt with both frequently as a White House reporter during the late 1990s. Daley impressed me as the more moderate of the two, cuddling closely with the very business lobbyists Obama despises as they sung in tandem to make the economic case for free trade, to the tune of considerable anger from protectionist liberal Democrats and their kin in the GOP.
Daley, who recently wrote an op-ed criticizing the current Obama team for floating to far to the left, speaks very directly, even dispassionately. He has an organized manner about him and would provide no-nonsense leadership to the White House, a contrast with Rahm’s “Excuse me, I’m freaking out now” style of management.
Sperling is a somewhat contemptuous know-it-all who nevertheless does know a lot and has a keen understanding for the politics and public relations of economics. He devised Clinton’s late ’90s “Save Social Security First” campaign, a PR stunt designed to preclude GOP-sponsored tax cuts by using money from the then-growing surplus to reduce the deficit instead.
While he is certainly capable of moderation, Sperling could be more frequently found at the White House rhapsodizing about the miniature government programs the Clinton people peppered the budget with after the flop of the gargantuan health care scheme.