THE BLOG

Daschle for Chief of Staff?

11/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In an article in today's New York Times, unnamed Obama advisers float a Tom Daschle trial balloon for Chief of Staff in an Obama administration; he's already been widely mentioned for other senior policy positions.

Appointing Daschle, who pulls in around a million dollars a year as a "Special Policy Advisor" (not a lobbyist) for the law firm Alston and Bird, would be a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of Obama's pledge that lobbyists "will not run my White House" or his administration, one of the hallmarks of his platform and one of the main way he differentiates himself from John McCain's lobbyist-riddled campaign.

Although Daschle technically avoids lobbying requirements, here's how Bob Dole described the reasoning behind recruiting Daschle to join him to the Washington Post:

"He's got a lot of friends in the Senate, and I've got a lot of friends in the Senate, and, combined, who knows -- we might have 51," Dole joked. "It's going to work fine. You need some flexibility and diversity. I don't think any successful firm is all Democrat or all Republican."

Appointing Daschle would open up Obama to attack almost immediately from Republicans who would say that he wasn't serious about bringing change to Washington.

But starting an administration with a grand act of hypocrisy would hardly be the worst thing about appointing Daschle. I spent a long time researching Daschle for a chapter of my book, Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party (it's the most comprehensive look at Daschle in print).

Daschle is a nice, mild-mannered guy, but throughout his career he was repeatedly bullied by opponents into capitulations he never wanted to make. He's a good listener, but he's not the kind of person who could ever bring change to anything. He doesn't persuade, he doesn't argue, he mostly just gives in to whoever is bringing the most pressure.

If his Senate career provides any guidance, his advice to Obama whenever Obama came under serious Republican attack would be to surrender -- and that could end up making Obama look as ridiculous as Daschle did, and seriously interfering with Obama's ability to make change. Here's a short excerpt about Daschle's failed 2004 reelection campaign from my book that probably demonstrates the political problems Daschle brought on himself better than any:

"[Daschle's] campaign manager bragged about a study saying that Daschle had voted with President Bush 75 percent of the time.... And finally -- and most famously -- Daschle actually ran a full 60 second ad that began, 'Tonight the president has called us again to greatness, and tonight we answer that call' and then actually featured an image of Bush hugging Daschle. The Republican National Committee called on Daschle to pull the ad. To say the least, the message was confusing; at worst, it appeared craven.

Before Daschle started his absurd effort to link himself to Bush, Republicans had largely confined their attacks to calling him liberal. Now they added that he was deceptive and weak. [Daschle opponent] John Thune himself led the charge. 'I don't know how you can project leadership and strength and, at the same time, run for tall cover any time anybody challenges your record,' Thune said of Daschle following one televised debate.

'In Washington, D.C., you know, he's attacking the president, you know, blocking the president's agenda, and in South Dakota, he's hugging the president. And, you know, the remarkable thing about it is how quickly he was willing to throw John Kerry overboard in order to help himself in South Dakota. I mean, I don't know very many party leaders that would do what he just did by running that ad.'"

Episodes like this helped make Daschle the first majority leader ousted in an election since Ernest McFarland in 1954 -- and helped contribute to the Democrats' loss of 4 seats in 2004. Obama's got to ask himself as he considers Daschle -- does he want change and success or hypocrisy, capitulation and defeat?