This afternoon, President Obama will announce that Bill Daley has accepted the chief of staff position. This isn't particularly good news from a "professional left" standpoint, at least as far as progressives and those of us who aren't corporate interests are concerned. From his Chamber of Commerce ties and opposition to key Obama priorities of the past two years, Daley at first glance was bad news for the non-corporate wing of the Democratic party. As more about his activities since leaving the Clinton administration have emerged, the worse it looks.
For instance, his lobbying for SBC, the Texas-based telecommunications giant.
In May 2003, Daley seemed to have won his most audacious victory. After four days of manic lobbying, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill hugely favorable to SBC. Negating a decision by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), the legislation allowed SBC to more than double the fees charged to competitors using its local network. Within hours, Governor Rod Blagojevich signed the bill. U.S. representative John Conyers of Michigan called it “a national embarrassment. The Democratic Party is supposed to stand for consumers.”
A month later, when a federal judge ruled that the law was anticompetitive and contrary to federal statute, Daley’s victory turned into a crushing defeat. His strategy of bypassing the ICC, which regulates telecommunications companies, and appealing directly to the legislators could not pass judicial muster.
From his position on the board of one of the country's biggest pharmaceutical companies, to defense contractors, the White House will have to figure out a way to allay conflict of interest charges by administration opponents and critics.
But beyond the actual and direct corporate ties, he is firmly ensconced with the most corporate arm of the party. That would be the Third Way, which trumpeted his joining the board of trustees in July, 2010.
Secretary Daley said: “I believe in Third Way’s unique mission—advancing moderate ideas, challenging orthodoxies, and building a big tent political movement that can attract an enduring majority. Their views are right for both campaigning and governing: pro-market, strong on security, and seeking common ground on culture issues. Third Way is doing exactly the work that we must do—with the White House, Congress and statehouses—if we’re going to own the center of American politics and create the kind of pragmatic change the country wants.”
Mr. Daley continued: “We’ve really got to listen carefully to the public. Voters are not re-embracing conservative ideology. But we must acknowledge that the left’s agenda has not won the support of a majority of Americans—and, based on that recognition, we must steer a more moderate course. Third Way is playing a central role in helping us navigate that course.”
The Third Way: "Only privatize half of Social Security. Bring half the troops home from Afghanistan. Only punch hippies half the time." Corporate America has had enough influence in our nation's governance, and certainly in this administration. Too many of Obama's economic advisors, with the exception of Elizabeth Warren, already come from Wall Street or corporate America. The Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal wrote about this problem before Daley was chosen.
The President once told a meeting of bankers that he was "the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks." That apparently wasn't good enough. Picking Daley would send the message that the pitchforks--normal people--matter less than the continued flow of campaign donations from the uber-wealthy. Barack Obama raised $39 million from the finance, insurance and real estate sector in his 2008 bid for President, the most raised from this sector by anyone in one cycle seeking political office in the United States ever.
Even more problematic than the need to corral donors for 2012 is that Daley's presence would allow him to control the time of the President. Daley could choose who the President sees and what information gets to the President. Based on the praise the financial sector has for the Daley selection, it is clear who those people are and what that information would be. In essence, Daley would act as a stovepipe for the interests of Wall Street, as if bankers didn't have enough influence already.
The stovepipe is in place. It might help in fundraising opportunities for the 2012 re-elect campaign, but it's unclear what that will mean for policy for working, and unemployed, America.