Jack Lew may well do fine succeeding Bill Daley as White House chief of staff, but Obama would have been better off choosing someone outside his comfort zone, says Michael Tomasky.
Bill Daley didn’t like Washington. We knew that before, but anytime a White House chief of staff leaves a president stunned by his resignation, as Obama evidently was, we can fairly assume he wanted to get the hell out of town. Jack Lew, who apparently will be leaving the Office of Management and Budget to take the chief-of-staff job, is well regarded and has good relations with Democrats on the Hill, and even with some Republicans. He may do a crackerjack job, but all the same, this succession reminds me of something about Barack Obama that I really don’t like.
He has such an insular comfort zone, and he seems terrified of going outside it. What would be the harm in hiring a chief of staff whom … gasp … the president didn’t know? Someone not … gasp again … from Chicago? OK, Lew is from New York, but he’s been in the administration from virtually day one. He has by every account done a good job. His highest-profile gig was handling the budget negotiations over the summer with House and Senate Republicans at the time of the debt-ceiling fracas. Those of course went nowhere, but that was largely the Republicans’ fault, as they were the ones who backed away from the table. Some Republicans, even Eric Cantor, said nice things about him.
So I have no complaints about Lew. I just wonder about Obama’s process and his emotional habits. And let’s face it, his track record on chiefs of staff is nothing to brag to mother about. Daley was a dud, by all accounts, and just his profile (Chicago corporate multimillionaire) sent a lot of bad signals to Democrats. And Rahm Emanuel was, let us say, an acquired taste.