It is a little disconcerting to discover that a throwaway line you wrote in a Friday evening blog post is, three days later, appearing across several national news outlets. None the less that happened to me today:
Chris Bowers, who writes on the OpenLeft.com blog, complained that the foreign policy lineup was a center-right team. "I feel incredibly frustrated," Mr. Bowers wrote last week. "Progressives are being entirely left out of Obama's major appointments so far."
I did feel very frustrated when I wrote that, but it has also spurred discussion about who, if anyone, are the progressives Obama has appointed so far. Fortunately, there are at least three examples of progressive appointments on Obama's senior White House staff:
- Patrick Gaspard, White House Political Director: One clear example is Patrick Gaspard, who formerly worked for SEIU 1199. All indications I have seen are that Gaspard is a principled progressive in the movement mold.
- Phil Schiliro, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. Phil Schiliro, formerly Waxman's Chief of Staff in the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, will serve as the top liason between the White House and Congress. All indications are that Schiliro will advise Obama from the left.
- Melody Barnes, Director of Domestic Policy Council: Melody Barnes will head the Domestic Policy council, which coordinates policy-making between a number of federal departments. Barnes worked for Ted Kennedy for a long time, and also for the Center for American Progress.
So, there are three senior White House staff in the progressive mold. While it is a decent progressive start to filling out the White House senior staff, one question that remains to be seen is if these senior staff appointments really are the equivalent, in terms of power, to the cabinet appointments that so far have unanimously gone to centrists. I have heard from sources that I trust that this absolutely is the case, but the lack of progressivism within the cabinet leaves me feeling wary. It seems important to me to have progressive voices in both areas, given that with Rahm Emanuel and Lawrence Summers, it is hardly the case that White House senior staff will be dominated by progressives. Minority representation in the White House senior staff, and no representation in the various cabinet departments, is simply not adequate. It's not a total shutout, but it isn't enough.
Another source I trust says that the important posts to watch from here on out will be Assistant Secretaries for Policy in the various cabinet departments. That makes sense, because even a cabinet secretary has to delegate a lot of authority, and those positions in each department will be the ones focused directly on policy. That is where we can make policy progressive, and so those are the posts that we need now. Given that there is a fairly decent mix of progressives in the White House senior staff, if we can also get the departmental policy directors, then progressives will have representation in most areas. But we need those positions before I start to relax on this front.
Update: ">Forgot to mention Ellen Moran, the new White House Communications Director. That is another progressive in Obama's senior White House staff.