For all Obama’s noble-sounding campaign rhetoric about how he’s a post-partisan kind of leader offering a new kind of politics, he has emerged as perhaps the most partisan of presidents, offering the same old kind of politics, practiced for decades in the City of Chicago based on an art first perfected in Tammany Hall.
He didn’t bring people into the White House versed in the art of political compromise and civil discourse, but instead individuals who cut their teeth in the rough and tumble of partisan politics. In July, Michael Barone observed that most “of Obama’s top White House staffers are politics operatives, not policy wonks.” Just this week, linking a column which build on Barone’s point, Michelle Malkin called Obama’s policy “the Perpetual Campaign.”
In that column, Dan Gerstein offered
This was meant to be an innocuous bit of inside baseball touting Gaspard’s labor roots and progressive bona fides. But it wound up revealing the Obama White House’s biggest weakness: The president’s top advisers are not just overly political, they are almost totally political. Indeed, this West Wing is stacked with “hacks”–campaign professionals who are acculturated to think, act and win in the hothouse environments of elections, not to govern a bitterly divided country in extremely difficult times.
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Now, new presidents always bring trusted campaign advisers into their administrations. But they usually mix them with a range of serious governing professionals, who come with a very different ethos, to balance out the politicos and bring diverse perspectives into the presidential inner circle. This White House is disproportionately different. But Obama’s West Wing is devoid of governing wise men (think Leon Panetta forBill Clinton, James Baker for the first George Bush and Clark Clifford for multiple Democrats). It is stocked almost exclusively with political pros and a handful of Friends of Barack whose main and often dominant frame of reference is partisan or personal.
After spelling out the partisan pedigree of various Obama staffers, Gerstein points out what’s missing.
What’s missing from this group, besides diversity of experience and interests, is a senior adviser or two with an independent point of view who could carry Obama’s post-partisan portfolio. Someone who would wake up every day thinking about how to form broad-based coalitions, to deepen the confidence and trust of independents and non-rabid Republicans in government, and push Obama to honor his promise to change politics-as-usual in Washington. Or at minimum, someone not ingrained or trained to think that the Republicans are the enemy.
If Obama really wants to carry that “post-partisan portfolio,” he needs replace some of the partisan hotheads in the White House with Democrats who have a record of working with (or at least cordial relations with) Republicans and conservatives.
But, there doesn’t seem much evidence of such a staffing overhaul. In the wake of House passage of the bill to overhaul our nation’s health care system, the President’s accented the partisan nature of that victory by turning the vote into a fundraising tool:
Scarcely more than an hour after the House narrowly passed the Democrats’ health care legislation Saturday night, President Obama sent out a fundraising email asking supporters for money to push a national health care bill through the Senate.
At the Obama White House, it’s all politics all the time.