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Day One of Obama 2.0: the William Daley era

January 7, 2011 |  3:22 am

Democrats William Daley and Barack Obama 1-6-11

Well, this time William Daley didn't faint when a president named him to a senior administration job. (Watch video here.)

Although perhaps the Democrat should have, given the daunting assignment of remaking the public image of the Obama White House crowd in the 670 dwindling days before the 2012 presidential election.

Daley's choice is an excellent one by Obama because it shows a young president maturing away from the comfortable ideological tack he's instinctively favored previously. Faced with a very real chance of pulling a Jimmy Carter one-termer, Obama opted for political pragmatism for his second two years; call it expediency, if you like.

As Obama put it, describing Daley's resume, "Bill also has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait." (Scroll down for full Obama and Daley remarks.)

Historical trait too, it seems. In 1960 it was some 9,000 inexplicably tardy votes from Cook County, controlled by William Daley's father, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, that gave John F. Kennedy Illinois' electoral votes that gave Kennedy the White House.

Yes, William Daley is yet another Chicagoan. Yes, he's yet another Clinton retread. And yes, he helped oversee Al Gore's oh-so-close 2000 campaign. But Daley's also ...

... a Chicagoan who's succeeded in the real world, beyond the gusty shores of Lake Michigan, where there's real opposition to learn to work with. Cooperation is not a Chicago pol kind of word. Clout is.

Under Obama's original chief of staff, the hardcore Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel, it was more than 500 days before the Democratic president bothered to invite the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, over for a chat. That delay won't happen under Daley.

The savvy, 62-year-old centrist, who was visiting the Kennedy White House with his powerful, pudgy papa before Obama was even born, is set up for success. If William Daley and his brother, current Mayor Richard, were police officers on Chicago's South Side, they would, of course, be White Sox fans. William would be the good cop. Richard not. (See photo below of Richard discussing politics in the Chicago way.)

And how could William Daley do any worse in the White House than what Obama and his starting crew did, squandering all that excitement, hope, good will and 70% approval from 24 months ago by cramming so much down the throats of Congress (and the country) as if it were an obedient Chicago City Council?

Winning politicians usually turn to their loyal senior campaign aides when assuming office. That team is tested, trusted and bonded through the trials and temperings of a demanding campaign. And they deserve the rewards of victory. Makes perfect sense.

If they're smart, what these elected folks tend to learn over the first year or two, however, is that governing through persuasion, consensus and -- if you can believe it -- actually listening to opponents is a whole lot different than glad-handing excited supporters and bull-rushing through opponents in the elbow-swinging campaign that got them there.Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley brother to new Obama White House chief of staff William Daley

Some politicians take longer than others to learn that lesson to gently send their loyal old pals off, with a generous thank-you note, as if leaving is what the aides themselves want. Remember how George W. Bush let conniving campaign communicator Karen Hughes go, as if she wanted to return home to Texas?

Emanuel, the abrasive, foul-mouthed former North Side House member, is gone from the Obama White House now, back in Chicago to replace William Daley's brother Richard as mayor. Emanuel took some of the Windy City street fighters with him to what Chicago Democrats genuinely regard as THE big league of politics.

Lawrence Summers is gone too, among others. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs departs in February. Gone also from the White House in a couple of months is top Obama aide/strategist David Axelrod, who also helped Richard win and hold City Hall in Chicago and will plan the Obama reelect back there, where his family always was. He and the new chief of staff speak the same language of Cook County. So they'll coordinate well.

Obama could not have choreographed a better reaction to the Daley choice. The business community, which Obama has so often battered as if he's some kind of ex-community organizer, responded warmly, at least to Daley. The Business Roundtable said it "has a strong relationship with Mr. Daley and has worked with him in the past on many issues important to both business and the broader economy, such as the successful ratification of NAFTA."

Third Way, the centrist political group that put Daley on its board last year, was delighted. "In selecting Daley," said its president Jonathan Cowan, "President Obama has hit the trifecta –- a top-notch manager, a pro-growth business leader and a moderate Democrat who knows how to work across the aisle."

Best of all from Obama's political perspective, the left sounded downright steamed about businessman Daley and this unholy working-across-the-aisle business. The left including unions has many Daley targets to choose from: his work for NAFTA, free trade beliefs, opposition to financial reforms and Obama's healthcare bill.

“With Wall Street reporting record profits while middle class Americans continue to struggle in a deep recession," complained Justin Ruben, MoveOn's executive director, "the announcement that William Daley, who has close ties to the Big Banks and Big Business, will now lead the White House staff is troubling and sends the wrong message to the American people."

Au contraire from Obama's viewpoint. He gave the Democratic left its 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal. He's waffling now on opposing same-sex marriage. Anti-war feelings over there remain incoherent and free of traction, thanks in part to Republican help. And let's be honest, where else is the left gonna go in 2012? Russ Feingold, who couldn't get reelected in his home state? Temperamental has-been Howard Dean?

The first post-midterm glimmer that the shellacked Obama was tip-toeing toward the political median was his lame-duck tax-cut deal with the rising Republicans despite the howls from Tom Harkin et al. Now, the impressive appointment of Daley at the president's left hand, deciding who and what gets through to the mansion's main man.

The next indicator will be the new press secretary. If that person is from outside the Obama-Biden circle, then Daley really is in charge. If not, then not. And it's more of the same old Obama White House in reality. But don't expect a formal Obama admission of any meaningful mid-course re-direction. Harvard grads don't admit mistakes publicly.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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President Obama's remarks on William Daley as chief of staff, as provided by the White House

THE PRESIDENT:  Please have a seat, everybody. Happy New Year. Last October, when my former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel departed to pursue other opportunities in Chicago, I asked Pete Rouse, one of my most trusted aides, to step into the breach and lead us through a very difficult time. And I also asked Pete to help us think about how the White House should be structured and run over the next two years. 

William Daley 1-6-11 Thanks in no small part to his efforts, a period that everybody thought would be one of retrenchment turned out to be one of great progress for our country. And Pete’s leadership is all the more remarkable when you consider that when I first met him and asked him to lead my Senate staff, he told me in that gruff voice of his that his strong inclination was to leave government. (Laughter and applause.) 

The reason everybody is applauding is because they’ve heard him say that every day -- (laughter) -- they’ve heard him say that every day for the last six years. And yet, each time I’ve asked him to accept one more assignment, he’s saddled up and he’s taken the job. And it’s fair to say that I would not be where I am today without his extraordinary counsel.

Pete didn’t volunteer to serve as interim chief of staff.  He made it clear that that was not his preference.  But he accepted the responsibility, and as he oversaw our strategy during the lame-duck session of Congress, he also was working to develop a structure and a plan for the next two years that I believe will serve the White House, and more importantly the American people, very well. One of those assignments was providing me recommendations for candidates to serve as chief of staff moving forward.

As part of that process, today I am proud to announce the appointment of an experienced public servant, a devoted patriot, my friend, fellow Chicagoan Bill Daley, to serve as my chief of staff. (Applause.)

Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job. He served as a member of President Clinton’s Cabinet as commerce secretary. He took on several other important duties over the years on behalf of our country. He’s led major corporations. He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy. And needless to say, Bill also has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works.  You might say it is a genetic trait. (Laughter.) 

But most of all, I know Bill to be somebody who cares deeply about this country, believes in its promise and considers no calling higher and more important than serving the American people. He will bring his tremendous experience, his strong values and forward-looking vision to this White House. I’m convinced that he’ll help us in our mission of growing our economy and moving America forward. And I very much look forward to working with Bill in the years to come.

Before I ask Bill to say a few words, I should also confess that I have prevailed once again on Pete’s sense of duty -- or sense of guilt, I’m not sure which -- and I’m grateful that he has agreed to one more tour of duty as my counselor for the next two years. (Applause.) 

As you might have noticed, people like Pete. (Laughter.) He is a unique and indispensable asset to me and to this administration. I cannot imagine life here without him, and I told him so. And I’m delighted that we’re able to keep him a little bit longer.Democrats John F Kennedy and Chicago Mayor Richard J Daley, 1960

I’ll be making further announcements in the days and weeks ahead, and I am absolutely confident that we will have a great team that’s equal to America’s task in the years to come. But with that, what I’d like to do is to introduce my new Chief of Staff, Bill Daley. (Applause.)

MR. DALEY: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)

Thank you very much, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President. You have honored me and my family by giving me an opportunity to serve you and to serve our nation. 

Fifty years ago this month I visited the White House with my parents and my brothers and sisters to visit a young President who went on to show great strength, leadership and vision in the face of enormous challenges in those times.

You, Mr. President, are proving your strength, your leadership, your vision during a most difficult time for our nation and for the world.  You have also shown through your example that public service is an honorable calling, and I am pleased to answer your call.

I look forward to working with the wonderful staff which you have assembled, and I know my job will be made easier by the great work and direction of Pete Rouse, the direction and great work he has provided over these past couple of months, and the president talked about the enormous successes under Pete’s watch.

Pete, too, has dedicated his life to public service and to our nation, and I’m grateful for his efforts, and I am proud to call him my colleague. I assure you, Mr. President, as they have done in the last two years, that this team will not let you down, nor the nation. Thank you very much for this extreme honor.  (Applause.)    ####

Photos: Win McNamee / Getty Images; Associated Press (Mayor Richard M. Daley, brother to William Daley and both sons to Richard J.); Olivier Douliery / MCT; Associated Press (John Kennedy and Mayor Richard J. Daley, 1960).