Obama’s Small Circle

I think Steve Clemons is right about how President Obama should respond to the critique by Edward Luce in the Financial Times of his tight inner circle of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs. Clemons recommends Obama take Luce’s piece seriously and evaluate how the White House decision making structure is failing, particularly in replicating the best parts of his campaign.

Governing is not the same as running a political campaign. In this case it means that Obama can’t rely on a tiny inner circle to make all decisions and dominate access to him. He has to open up to expert and advisers with a range of opinions. On the other side, though, Obama has to make his White House more like the campaign, wherein there was a broad acceptance of challenging Conventional Wisdom and listening to new ideas. This was facilitated by a campaign rule of “no assholes,”  which opened lines of communication and fostered creativity.

It’d be one thing if Obama’s small inner circle had helped him achieve great things in his first year, but they haven’t. Instead the administration has floundered, failing to pass health care reform, climate policy reform, immigration reform, labor reform, or banking regulation. Even if the President loves his inner circle and wants them to be the ones running the show, he has to at least recognize that this team hasn’t gotten the job done.

President Bush was rightly criticized for living in a news bubble and maintaining a tiny inner circle – Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez and a few other interchangeable figures over the years.  He was cut off from reality and voices that cast doubt on what the inner circle was advising him were pushed aside. While no one is suggesting that President Obama is operating in a bubble, the critique of maintaining a tiny group of core advisers is a serious one that should be listened to attentively by the President.

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