There’s been hullabaloo about Bill Daley being heavily criticized on the left as too appeasing to Republicans. Similarly, there’s a new book from Ron Suskind about how Larry Summer, Tim Geithner, and Rahm Emanuel convinced the President to bail out the banks at his own expense.
But all this discussion of President Obama’s staff ignores the guy who picked them all — Obama himself. If Obama had wanted to choose a larger stimulus, he could have picked the plan of Christina Romer. He didn’t. If Obama had wanted to push for a more stringent financial reform package, he could have nominated Elizabeth Warren to head the CFPA. He didn’t. If Obama had wanted a public option, he would have included it in his original health care plan. He didn’t.
This is not to say that Obama is some sort of secret conservative; simply that his staff is a reflection of his policies. Obama has never been keen to throw red meat to his liberal base, and he has always believed in achieving the possible rather than the impossible. That may not be what we wanted to see in him, but that is what he is doing.
Consider the latest jobs bill. Obama could have chosen to put forth a truly ambitious package that was doomed to fail. He could have put forth a national infrastructure bank, or proposed a second stimulus. Instead, he chose his modest package, of which some parts might at least become law. Obama would rather do something than nothing (at least with legislation… nominations are something else entirely).
The criticism of Obama’s staff this week reminded me of similar criticism of the Bush 43 staff, in that it ignored any possibility of the President’s own agency. President Obama would be the first person to take responsibility for his decisions; he owns them. If he has made mistakes, they are his, not those of his staff. Clinton picked Dick Morris to triangulate, because Clinton wanted to triangulate. Bush picked Dick Cheney to advise the torture regime, because Bush wanted to torture. The modern President is not a rube.
Certainly the President’s aides and staff are important; they handle the day-to-day operations and adjust what the President hears. But in the end, it is Obama who is making the big calls.