Because the White House remains “Chicago on the Potomac,”—although less so now with the exit of Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod—it’s always fascinating to see how the latest Washington insider book portrays Chicagoans in the corridors of the West Wing.
The latest of the genre is David Corn’s Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party. Corn is the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, and, before that, the long time Washington editor of The Nation. If you’re a fan, as I am, of Chris Matthews’ Hardball on MSNBC, you know Corn, a frequent guest on the show—and a mostly reliable booster of Barack Obama.
Corn is not a fan of Bill Daley, briefly Obama’s Chief of Staff, and portrays Daley as too corporate, too chummy with Republican Speaker John Boehner, and too willing to cave to Republican demands for cuts in government programs.Daley, writes Corn, “even bore a passing resemblance to Daddy Warbucks.” By selecting Daley, “a big finance guy,” as Rahm Emanuel’s successor, “Obama was indeed sending a symbolic tweet to Wall Street and the business community… ‘There are more open doors here, come and have a conversation.’”
Corn quotes an unnamed Obama adviser as grousing, “Bill certainly doesn’t share the President’s political values. Then again, Rahm didn’t either. It might be good for him to have a chief of staff who did.” The author describes Daley as head-to-toe corporate: “He preferred an orderly and hierarchical decision-making process … immediately canceled the daily 8:30 a.m. gathering of heads of White House departments … dramatically constricted who could attend meetings…. Daley was in his office, often in one scheduled meeting after another, with the door closed.” (This in contrast to Rahm who “…used to walk the halls of the West Wing, yanking people out of meetings to deal with the urgent matter of that instant.”)
Senate Democrats worried that “a freelancing Daley might hand Boehner more cuts than they fancied and undermine their negotiating posture….. [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, for his part, was ticked off at the White House for accepting such a high number. He wasn’t happy that Daley had pushed the talks along by apparently offering more cuts to Boehner. `Daley was going rogue,’ a senior Democratic Senate aide recalled….”
There was almost nothing in the book on Rahm, although Corn does note that Obama reelection campaign manager Jim Messina—who previously worked closely with Rahm in the White House—“once referred to Emanuel as the `smartest political strategist of his generation.’” Corn also writes that there was “grumbl[ing]” among some White House staffers about the fact that Rahm “had left his post—abandoned it… to run for mayor of Chicago”—and did so just a month before the disastrous-for-Democrats 2010 election.