In politics, as in life, there are usually at least two sides to a story. The resignation today of White House chief of staff Bill Daley is likely to follow this familiar pattern. Supporters of President Obama are apt to describe the resignation as the result of Daley's inability to implement Obama's vision and get his agenda through Congress. Fans of Daley, on the other hand, may view Daley's departure as the result of Obama's failure to develop sensible, coherent policies for growing America's economy.
Daley is a pro-business Democrat who struggled to fit in at a White House which had become increasingly populist. The philosophies of the two men had grown too far apart to reconcile.
In December, Obama unofficially launched his re-election campaign by traveling to Oswatomie, Kansas and giving a speech that largely embraced the populism of Occupy Wall Street. "For most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded," said Obama. "Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments -- wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren't -- and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up."
Nowhere in Obama's speech did he mention the truly American concept of personal responsibility.
Just one year ago, in announcing his appointment of Bill Daley as his new chief of staff, the president spoke quite differently, focusing on a positive message that linked Daley's business success with the traits necessary to effectively serve the country. "Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job," said Obama with Daley at his side. "He served as a member of President Clinton's Cabinet, as Commerce secretary... He's led major corporations. He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy."
Obama's hour-long speech in Kansas in December made clear that the Democratic candidate for re-election had abandoned the successful centrism pursued by his party under President Bill Clinton -- when the economy boomed and Daley served as Commerce secretary -- in order to embrace higher taxes and more government regulation. Daley's announced departure from the White House today seems to confirm Obama's break with the business community and with many independent, centrist voters.
Perhaps Obama felt he had no choice politically. Today, the polling firm Rasmussen Reports calculates that 47% of Democrats give him their "strong approval," while 78% of Republicans and 39% if Independents give him a "strongly disapprove" rating. Obama appears to be casting his lot with his base rather than leading the entire United States of America.
So what does Bill Daley's resignation signal for 2012?
Obama will run hard to the left. His re-election success, according to Yale economics professor Ray Fair, will depend on economic growth and job creation.
Bill Daley will return to Chicago and review opportunities in business and politics. On the business side, he might re-join J.P. Morgan or go to work with his brother Rich at Tur Partners, an investment firm that the retired mayor has set up to develop urban development projects with international partners. On the political side, some believe that he could run as the Democratic candidate in the next race for governor of Illinois.
Stay tuned. 2012 is likely to be interesting.