It would be hard to find a Washington political insider with greater power and fewer enemies than Jack Lew, who's moving over from the OMB directorship, which he's occupied twice, to become the White House chief of staff.
Not only does the appointment confirm that nice guys often finish near the top of the pack (or that we have a meritocratic system where cream rises to the top ), but it also sends a salutary message to those who decry the disappearance of civility in Washington. Jack Lew is civil. He's also smart and patient, quite able to tolerate apparent fools when he must.
He works very hard and has avoided the siren song of the cable commentariat that others have found so alluring during absences from government.
It would be a mistake to portray him as a bloodless, value-free bureaucrat despite the fact that it has worked to his advantage to allow himself to be described that way over the years. He's a Democrat who believes that the society has an unmet obligation to its less fortunate members. He's quietly done more than a little to help the less fortunate since his days as an aide to House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. in the early 1980s. His fit within the Washington culture is illuminated by the fact that he still tends to refer to his onetime principal as "Mr. O'Neill" despite the fact that all others -- friends and enemies alike -- refer to the former speaker as Tip.
Among his greatest assets is his ability to talk to everyone and listen well. That not only allowed him to maintain strong relationships with both Hillary Clinton, who he served as deputy Secretary of State at the start of the Obama administration to Barack Obama who hasn't always been close to the New York City Democratic tradition that Lew is a product of.
He's repeatedly demonstrated an ability to maintain relationships with Republican legislators who disagree with him about nearly everything of substance, but trust him as an honest broker. Not too many honest brokers remain in Washington.
Those who worry about the revolving door -- I am not among them -- may carp about his service as a Washington lawyer, a New York University administrator and a Citibanker, and worry that those who he has represented in the past will somehow have a leg up in the coming political debate. I see his experience as sensitivity to how Washington actions can impact other American institutions. Better his resume than that of someone who's spent an entire career in government or as an outside analyst rather than a player.
It is reasonable to assume that someone who's done as much as Lew has over such an extended period (the list of those in key roles today who did important work during the Reagan Administration is not a long one) has made some enemies. My guess, though, is that investigative journalists in search of enemies of Jack Lew, will find the search a frustrating one. In today's political environment, that's a very encouraging sign.
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