The Poverty of Centrism
Thomas Frank lays out the reasons why the pick of William Daley for Chief of Staff in the Obama administration is completely politically tone deaf to the mood of the average voter out there.
From CNN's Parker Spitzer:
SPITZER: Joining us in "The Arena" tonight are CNN political contributor James Carville and Thomas Frank, "Harper's" magazine contributor and author of several books including "What's the Matter with Kansas?"
PARKER: Thanks for joining us. So we're all talking about the changes at the White House, particularly the new chief of staff. Why should the American people care about who the president hires as his chief of staff, James? Go to you first.
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, you know it's one of the most powerful positions in the United States government. It's not confirmable. So I think it does matter and I also think it's a reflection of the White House strategy of policy which appears to me to be a continuation of the December policy that cooperate with the Republicans and to not be very confrontational.
And I think that president picking Secretary Daley sent that signal. I think it's a manifestation of an ongoing strategy that the White House has adopted.
PARKER: Well, everybody loves him, it seems like. I have found no one on either side of the aisle who's critical of him. And I'm sure Tom Frank would join us here and congratulate the president for picking such a rationale chief of staff, right?
FRANK: You know what, Kathleen, this -- this whole thing, it just -- you remember when I was on your -- I was up there in New York and I was on your show a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about -- the term that I use is the poverty of centrism, right?
The sort of exhaustion of this whole way of understanding politics. And this gives you another, you know, really big clue as to what's the matter with the Democrats. There's just no imagination out there. They seem to just be completely clueless with regards to, you know, how to play the political game. This is their response to the shellacking that they took.
SPITZER: You know, Tom, I got to jump in here and agree with you 100 percent. It seems to me there's another factor we've got to bring to the table here.
On the same day that Bill Daley comes in, Paul Volcker goes out. Paul Volcker, of course, the esteemed, highly respected former chairman of the Fed, was the only one in the administration who was really pushing for fundamental Wall Street reform. And so he is gone and we bring in a banker, somebody from Morgan Chase, who is now going to be at the center, as James said. Being chief of staff for the president is being arguably the second most powerful person in the United States government.
FRANK: Right. But, you're not -- you're not being fair there. It's a balanced choice because at the same time they brought in Gene Sperling who I believe used to work for Goldman Sachs.
SPITZER: That's right.
FRANK: So you've got -- you know you've got both sides represented there. JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
SPITZER: Tom, how can you disagree with that?
SPITZER: James, I hear you trying to get in here.
CARVILLE: Well, defend Gene because he did this work with Goldman Sachs. As I recall, it was something about empowering women or something. He -- but Gene can defend himself.
I do think it's kind of funny that Obama comes in as the agent of change and change you can believe in, and the new Republican Congress comes in and they're going to change everything, and sitting down at the table and negotiating, it'll be Bill Daley and John Boehner.
CARVILLE: Somehow --
SPITZER: James, it goes beyond --
CARVILLE: It didn't strike me as real. And I like Bill Daley and I think the president made the choice that reflects the policy that he wants to adapt.
PARKER: James, does this --
CARVILLE: I mean personally he's a great guy.
PARKER: James, does this not have Bill Clinton's fingerprints all over it? Come on. Because, you know, Mr. Daley was his --
CARVILLE: I doubt -- I doubt it. I doubt it. I mean -- no. You know what, my personal knowledge I think -- no. Bill Daley is from Chicago. He and Obama have known each other for a long time.
PARKER: Well, he was also commerce secretary under --
CARVILLE: He was but he has also has a relationship with President Obama. He certainly has a relationship with Rahm. I mean, you know -- and Obama is comfortable with people from Chicago around him. Look at his appointments. Look at people who are close to him.
PARKER: Obviously. As soon as Rahm leaves to go to Chicago, you know, and Bill Daley is the brother of the mayor who Rahm is trying to replace. It's kind of incestuous.
FRANK: It's so -- it's so much worse than that. Can I just say I think Bill Clinton would be way too smart to make a decision like this? This just shows they have no idea. These guys have no idea what is going on out in the country. We are in, you know, it's the flames of populist revolt.
That is what is going on out in America. And their way of getting out ahead of had is to bring in a guy from Wall Street? I mean what are they thinking? Do they think that the Republicans can't pounce on that and can't hammer that -- them for that because he's a centrist? They have no comprehension of what is making people -- driving people crazy.
CARVILLE: Tom, Tom, Tom. The chairman of the banking committee, a Republican from Alabama, said it was their job to serve Washington.
FRANK: I know. I saw that.
CARVILLE: They should be mad at Wall Street.
FRANK: Now you've got two of them. Now you've got two of them.
SPITZER: It seems to me this is a completely -- it's a completely -- it's a misapprehension of where they need to go to negotiate effectively with the Republican Congress.
This is -- as I've said all along about the Obama Cabinet, it's continuity you can believe in from the Bush administration, from the prior administration, to go back to Wall Street and how -- you know, James, you said before that they're going to have to negotiate with the Republican Congress.
Why do you think the Republican Congress is going to negotiate with them?
CARVILLE: Well, Wall Street won.
SPITZER: Say it again.
CARVILLE: I mean I hate to bring the news but they won on financial reform, they won on everything. They always win. You know you made a gallant effort and Tom makes a lot of points. I think that they, you know, basically -- you know Paul Volcker says that modern banking hasn't done a single thing to help a single person other than the ATM machine.
SPITZER: Well, I'm with you.
CARVILLE: But they won.
SPITZER: Tom, who would you have brought in?
CARVILLE: They just -- they won.
FRANK: Who would I have brought in?
FRANK: My god, you've got the wrong person to ask that question.
PARKER: President for a day.
FRANK: I have nothing to do with this sort of inner workings of the Democratic Party or the White House or anything like that. They don't tell me what's going on. They don't tell -- I have no idea about something like that. I'm just an observer like you guys, right? And when I watch something like this, it puts me in mind of the western front during World War I, OK?
I think of these -- the British generals that, you know, planning the Battle of the Somme, or something like that. They're like OK, we'll just have another direct frontal assault with another million men. You know?
They've learned nothing. They've learned nothing. Just wandering into another blood bath. They haven't --
CARVILLE: They keep blowing it.
FRANK: They just haven't -- they haven't understood anything from what's just happened in the country in the last two years.
PARKER: Well, they have understood what's happened, Tom.
CARVILLE: They keep blowing the whistle.
PARKER: I mean come on. The American people just put Republicans in the House and they clearly --
FRANK: This is the poverty of centrism.
PARKER: No, no, no, no. This isn't --
FRANK: The scale of one to seven and they need to choose a guy who's a three or a four, but that's not in at all. It's the people versus the powerful. It is the elite against the people.
PARKER: But this is not just a Wall Street victory. This is -- you know, so the fellow is pro business. You have -- you know, but you have people like Howard Dean saying this is a good choice. This is a good guy.
FRANK: Sure -- that could be. But remember, another one of the things on his resume, he was the point man on negotiating, oh my god NAFTA. Look at the Tea Party movement. They hate NAFTA.
Look at the -- the one demographic that the Democratic Party is hemorrhaging, working class voters, what really pisses them off about Democrats? It's NAFTA. Why do they have to keep embracing NAFTA? Why can't they turn their backs on it?
PARKER: All right, James -- James Carville, Thomas Frank, thank you all. Thank you for an animated conversation.
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