Obama’s choice of Bill Daley for White House Chief of Staff has progressive writers (Ari Berman, Ezra Klein, Digby) and organizers (Adam Green of PCCC) rightly irked and puzzled. Daley publicly pushed the line that Obama and the Democrats overreached with healthcare reform; opposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency; shilled for JP Morgan Chase and the Chamber of Commerce (who wet themselves over his appointment). As Digby points out, Daley kvetched about the electoral plight of centrist Democrats in a December 2009 Washington Post op-ed, urging the party to adopt a "big tent" philosophy and a "diversity of views even on tough issues such as abortion, gun rights and the role of government in the economy"—which more or less rolls out the welcome mat for Sarah Palin (D-Alaska). (Digby also notes that in Jeffrey Toobin’s account of the 2000 Florida fiasco, it was Daley as an adviser to Gore who urged him to throw in the towel prematurely.)
So why are two of Obama’s biggest critics from the Democratic Party’s left wing leaning forward on MSNBC to give Daley a big sloppy kiss? Howard Dean on Olbermann said that Daley would be a "huge plus" to Obama’s team and characterized him as someone who "knows Washington, but…is not of Washington." Is this the same Dean who publicly dissed Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod—"Don’t let the door hit you in the you-know-what on the way out!"—while complaining that they had treated the left with "contempt"? By all accounts, Daley is much more of a left antagonist than Gibbs and Axelrod and is much better positioned to exercise malign influence inside the administration—so what gives Howard?
And what’s up with Robert Reich, whose views on NAFTA and the Third Way are complicated, but considerably to the left of Daley? Echoing Dean, Reich took to the pundit stand to compliment Daley as a "very dedicated public servant" and a "good and important addition to the White House.
Whatever their personal motives, Dean and Reich’s rush to praise Daley has had the effect of muddling the story line on Daley’s appointment, diluting what should have been cast as near unanimous condemnation of Obama’s pick from his base. To me this illustrates a larger problem for progressives still electorally wedded to the Democratic Party: Obama is too big to fail. I’m not unsympathetic to the dilemma. It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which progressives abandon Obama en masse without courting disaster. But that shouldn’t mean bending over backwards to defend poor choices, nor should it mean trying to outflank and deflate his critics from the left.
As Reich himself pointed out, the bailout of the too-big-to-fail banks contained few conditions, creating a "moral hazard" for Wall Street. The same applies to how progressive Democratic power brokers react to Obama’s governing strategy; their support should be conditional and measured, not a blank check for his centrism. It will take spine and nerve to play that game, but honesty and guts are what we need now—not any more progressive surrender monkeys.