Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Democrats Offer Scathing Criticism of Obama's Senior Staff

Career Democrats (not just "outsider" liberal critics) are beginning to criticize President Obama's senior staff. The Hill, for example, reports that liberal and moderate Democrats in Congress blame Rahm Emanuel for the Obama administration's poor performance on healthcare reform.

Although both sides point to Emanuel, they do so for different reasons. Moderates fault Emanuel for only seeking the support of a narrow band of politicians, like Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Liberals, on the other hand, argue that Emanuel gave Senator Max Bachus too much time to negotiate with Republicans, like Senator Charles Grassley (who shamelessly joined Sarah Palin to condemn the bill for promoting "death panels").

On some level the criticisms sound contradictory (too much outreach versus not enough outreach to Republicans). Nevertheless, they all single out Emanuel as a problem for Obama. They also attribute Emanuel's shortcomings to his lack of Senate experience (which raises the question: Where is Joe Biden?).

In addition to The Hill article, former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder has written a scathing critique of Obama's senior staff in Politico. Wilder, who supported Obama over Hillary Clinton, argued that Obama needs to shake up his senior staff and remove Tim Kaine as Chair of the Democratic National Committee:
I am an admirer of Tim Kaine, whom I backed in his current position and as one of my successors as Virginia governor and even recommended for the vice presidency. But a spate of recent losses in races that Democrats should have won underscores what has been obvious to me for a long time: The chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee is the wrong job for him.

The changes must go much deeper. Obama’s West Wing is filled with people who are in their jobs because of their Chicago connections or because they signed on with Obama early during his presidential campaign.

One problem is that they do not have sufficient experience at governing at the executive branch level. The deeper problem is that they are not listening to the people.

Hearing is one thing; listening is another.
Although these recent critiques focus on Obama's staff, they implicitly raise questions regarding the extent to which Obama himself is responsible for his shortcomings. Admittedly, while Obama filled many policy positions with experienced individuals, a lot of his senior advisers in the White House are Chicago pals or people who endorsed him at critical stages of his campaign. Accordingly, Wilder's critique seems legitimate.

Nevertheless, some of the qualities that Democrats now demand -- experience and toughness -- are things they explicitly rejected in Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primaries. Democrats said that they wanted a "fresh face," rather than "experience," and that they wanted a "unifier," rather than a "fighter."

Now, hearing Democrats demand that Obama become tougher or that he replace his staff with veteran Washington politicians reminds me of Clinton's famous campaign statement: "You campaign in poetry and govern in prose." At this point, no one can honestly debate these words.


Anonymous said...

Er, the majority of Democratic voters in the primaries did demand an experienced fighter. Unfortunately, their candidate wasn't nominated, and they were thrown out of the party.

Thomas said...

Hey, Professor, I just nominated you for the Kreativ Bloggers award. Thank you for the work you are doing!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Thomas: THANKS! I really appreciate that -- and thanks for reading.

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