Obama: Hiring Bill Daley
At the end of President Obama’s first year in office, William Daley wrote an op-ed castigating him for veering too far left. “The leaders of the Democratic Party need to move back toward the center,” he wrote, “and in doing so, set the stage for the many years' worth of leadership necessary to produce the sort of pragmatic change the American people actually want.” After Republicans swept the midterm elections, Obama decided to test out Daley’s diagnosis. He appointed him chief of staff, and followed his prescription. The administration would seek to mollify business leaders. It would pursue bipartisan agreements with Republicans in Congress and regain the trust of the public.
The experiment ended in less than a year. It was a disaster. Daley failed at the managerial aspects of his job, but the larger failure was his worldview. Daley thought the main problem facing the country was the budget deficit. He believed he could secure a bipartisan agreement with the Republicans to solve it, and he thought the GOP’s game of chicken over lifting the debt ceiling was the perfect occasion to cut that deal. All those assumptions proved disastrous. In reality, the economic crisis, not the deficit, posed the most severe test. Republicans had moved substantively right, and had both strategically and emotionally adopted a position of total partisan opposition such that any agreement would be impossible. If Obama supported it, that meant it was socialist tyranny.
As the summer dragged on, Obama desperately and repeatedly tried to secure Republican agreement to cut spending and (slightly) increase taxes, by closing tax exemptions and reducing rates. No deal could be had. As Washington sank further into dysfunction, so did Obama’s approval ratings, and he particularly lost support on the question of being a “strong leader.” Daley’s prediction that moving to the center would produce bipartisan agreement and revive the party’s standing was proven to be spectacularly wrong.
The anti-Obama backlash has been so pronounced that Romney has been franticly and not very effectively trying to tamp down comparisons of ObamaCare to the health-care overhaul he implemented in Massachusetts. Tim Pawlenty masterfully coined the first new word — certainly not the last — of this campaign season: ObamenyCare. As The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza clearly demonstrated in his expansive RomneyCare dissection, Massachusetts' universal health-care overhaul was the model Obama used for his mouthful-of-a-name Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The White House even used the same MIT economist that Romney had consulted, Jonathan Gruber. Early this summer, speaking at a restaurant near his summer home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, Romney made one of his more deliberate attempts at taking back the RomneyCare narrative and steering it in a more states' rights direction. On hand, reporting the scene, was New York's own John Heilemann. "What we did for Massachusetts was right for Massachusetts," he told the hundred or so gathered people. "The nice thing about a state solution to a state problem, as opposed to a federal takeover, is that the states, if they don't like something, can change it. […] What we did in Massachusetts isn't perfect. It's got things in it that I vetoed at the beginning that got put back in by the Legislature. And I'm sure that years in the past, there are things I would've done quite differently as well." (Another rollback: One line was conspicuously deleted from a second edition of his book No Apology: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.”) Still in Wolfeboro: "Ninety-eight percent of the people in my state are now insured. I think that's a good thing. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'll put the health of the people in my state ahead of my political prospects.” It seems that most Republican voters are willing to adopt Romney’s reasoning: It was a great idea then, in that specific situation, but it's an absolutely terrible idea now, in this one.