Friday, January 7, 2011

Funny Math at the NYT

I'm trying to understand the math in today's NYT story by Michael Shear about Bill Clinton people in the Barack Obama Administration, begged to the announcements of Bill Daley as Chief of Staff and Gene Sperling to head the National Economic Council.

Key quotes:
The appointments add to the already significant ranks of Clintonites in Mr. Obama’s administration.

Still, as some of Mr. Obama’s longtime advisers leave the White House, his decision to revamp his staff by tapping more veterans of Mr. Clinton’s administration is notable.
Can we get a bit of a reality check?  Both of the people who are being replaced (Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers) are every bit as much associated with Bill Clinton as are Daley and Sperling.  So the net change in Clinton people would  In fact, since Sperling was already over at Treasury, it may be that there will be fewer, not more, Clinton people when all is said and done, at least by one reasonable way of counting, and assuming no more changes.

Why does anyone care about this?   Well, in fact, it is important to understand that the Clinton White House was and the Obama White House is deeply situated within the Demcocratic Party network; neither of these administrations has been primarily filled with personal loyalists with ties only to the president.  Indeed, while Daley, Emanuel, Summers, and Sperling all worked for Clinton, each of them has various other ties within the party, and none of them were Arkansans or otherwise had roots to Clinton that reached back before the 1992 campaign.

That is not, however, the tack that Shear takes.  Instead, he uses the supposed increase in Clintonites as a signal (or a potential signal; he cloaks it in wishy-washy "To many" language instead of identifying himself or specific others who are claiming it) of ideological movement to the center.  For that, however, he's going to need an increase of greater than -1 to make his point. 


  1. Move to the center from where? Obama is to the right of Clinton, and Clinton was to the right of Eisenhower?

    Except for Bernie Sanders and a couple of others, we don't even have a left.

    The political discussion has been so distorted by tha parallax view of right wing commentators that center-right is commonly perceived as far left.


  2. Doesn't this go back to the "governmental professional, campaign professional, politician" divide you talked about earlier? It seems to me that Daley and Sperling are really governmental professionals (As were Rahm and Summers, though Rahm had clearly dabbled in all three, and will make the move to pure politician in about 3 months). And if you're a Democratic Governmental Professional, you pretty much had to make a stop in the Clinton Administration.

    I think the confusion comes from the fact that, since the modern Presidency and campaign cycle was fully formed, there's only been two Democratic Administrations before this one, and one of those was an abject disaster. So there's just a limited pool of Governmental Professionals to draw from, and Lefty activists, especially those online, gestated during the Bush years and are thus unused to hiring experienced hands.

  3. Colby,

    Good point.

    Just by way of expanding & clarifying...Daley has at least as much experience on the campaign side as governing. Sperling has some campaign experience as well, while Summers AFAIK has none. So on balance they're adding campaign-side experience.

    I'd also say that they don't have to draw from Clinton people. There are governing professionals from the Hill, and also governing professionals from state capitols (many of whom are presumably out of work, what with Dem->GOP transitions in several statehouses). There's also all those out-of-work politicians. Now, there are certainly advantages to getting someone with WH/exec branch experience, and then you're absolutely correct. But there are other possibilities.


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