In a press release issued today, the Barrack Obama campaign announced 14 new senior staff appointments. Most notably, Patti Solis Doyle, who managed Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the first half of the primary season, was named chief of staff to Obama’s vice presidential nominee (whoever that might be). Doyle’s Obamafication was not much of a surprise. More intriguing was the appointment of Jim Messina, chief of staff for Senator Max Baucus, as the campaign’s chief of staff (with David Plouffe remaining the top dog).
Messina has been working for Baucus, the chairman of the Senate finance committee, on and off since 1995, serving as his campaign manager in 1996 and 2002. Baucus, a Montana Democrat, has been dubbed “one of corporate America’s favorite Democrats.” And according to The Missoulian, his Senate office has produced a high number of staffers-turned-corporate-lobbyists. Last year, Ari Berman of The Nation noted that Baucus, then the senior Democrat on the finance committee, in 2005 asked 50 lobbyists to raise $100,000 for his reelection campaign. In other words, Baucus is not about change in Washington.
But should the sins of the senator be attributed to the chief of staff? In Washington, plenty of people work for legislators without personally agreeing with all of their boss’s stances and actions. But a few years ago, Messina was interviewed for a newsletter produced by the Gallatin Group, a corporate lobbying firm specializing in issues of interest to the Northwest, and he was asked to name the “most important bipartisan accomplishment of your boss.” His answer: “Senator Baucus was the chief reason bipartisan tax cut legislation was enacted in 2001.”
Messina was referring to the George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 and Baucus’s instrumental role in the passage of that legislation. And Messina was right. Baucus, bucking his fellow Democrats, was a key supporter of Bush’s massive, tilted-to-the-rich tax cuts. His defection helped make the tax cuts happen. At that time, Messina was managing Baucus’ reelection campaign.
Obama, of course, has been fiercely critical of the Bush tax cuts. “George Bush and his friends in Congress have given billions in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them,” Obama has said. He routinely blasts John McCain for having flip-flopped on the Bush tax cuts, initially opposing them and now calling for their never-ending continuation. So is there anything curious about Obama selecting as a campaign chief of staff a congressional staffer who was part of a political operation that contributed to making the Bush tax cuts a reality and who spoke of them in an apparently positive manner? I put this question to the Obama campaign and will report back if a reply comes.
As the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Obama is now the leader of a political entity that includes idealistic, reform-seeking, public-interest do-gooders as well as corporate-minded professionals connected to the pay-to-play system deeply rooted in the nation’s capital. (I’m not saying Messina is one or the other.) Unifying such a party under the banner of change will have its challenges. Obama’s campaign is now being partly run by a fellow (presumably a talented political operative) who served a Democrat who helped enact major legislation Obama depicts as harmful to the nation. Is that a sign Obama can reach out to those with whom he disagrees, or is it an accommodation to the ways of Washington?