Inside the White House


Joe Klein isn’t sure that Pete Rouse is a good choice to replace Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff:

I don’t know Rouse very well. I don’t know what his priorities will be. Early reports emphasized his “calming” effect and his long career as a Congressional insider. But if this no-drama White House gets any calmer, it’ll be comatose. There’s a need for energetic, non-Congressional, non-insider voices in the inner circle. Some wise executives like Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell would be welcome.

Maybe. Klein suggests that Democrats too often choose congressional insiders as chief of staff while Republicans more wisely choose energetic executives. There’s something to that, though I’m not sure Republican chiefs of staff have necessarily been any more dramatic than Democratic ones. James Baker was the ultimate insider, after all, and Andy Card was about as self-effacing as they come.

More generally, though, Klein dings Obama for getting a lot of stuff through Congress but not getting a lot of credit for it. That’s probably unfair. Obama has had pretty good legislative success, and the sour public mood is due far more to the long, grinding recession we’re in than it is to Obama’s public persona. On average, Obama is about as popular today as most other presidents at this point in their terms.

In any case, Klein will probably get his wish shortly. Rouse’s influence aside, Obama is almost certain to have a far more combative, White House-centric identity if he has to deal with a Republican Congress starting in January. That worked wonders for Bill Clinton’s popularity, and I imagine it will do the same for Obama’s.

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