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Daley's False Equivalence

Last month I made a plea for a first-rate profile of Bill Daley, chief of staff to President Barack Obama, who I was beginning to suspect was part of the White House's problem. It still hasn't appeared. But Politico, which had weighed in with a serviceably mediocre one ("Trouble on Daley's Watch") now has a much better Daley piece--an interview with Politico's Roger Simon. What do we learn? 

1.) Daley's favorite adjective (judging from both Politico pieces) is "shitty." 

2.) Daley resents being compared unfavorably to his predecessor, Rahm Emanuel (whose own effectiveness was called into question in Ron Suskind's book, Confidence Men), and at one point says pointedly, "I'm not angling for something else, you know?" The "something else" in this case is a job long held by Daley's brother and father, the two Richard Daleys. Draw your own psychological conclusions.

3.) Daley does not come off as a particularly smart or polished fellow in the interview. Either he isn't as smart as we thought he was or he isn't very good at handling the press. In either case, it becomes clearer the further you read into the piece why Daley seldom gives interviews. (Though in fairness to Daley, I interviewed him 20-odd years ago when I was working for Newsweek and he seemed smart enough to me then. Maybe he's risen to his own level of incompetence.)

4.) Daley buys into the same hackneyed "both sides are equally at fault" interpretation of the current government impasse peddled by much of the press.“On the domestic side," he tells Simon, "both Democrats and Republicans have really made it very difficult for the president to be anything like a chief executive. This has led to a kind of frustration.”

This last is a truly disturbing accusation for the White House chief of staff to make.

When the press says that both sides are equally at fault it is doing so out of fear that blaming one side (say, pathologically intransigent Republicans) more than the other (say, timorous Democrats) will somehow violate the rules of objectivity. Objectivity is a laudable goal but when one side really is more at fault than the other, as does happen from time to time, journalists do readers no favor by pretending otherwise. This point has been made repeatedly by more enlightened commentators in recent months, and the Atlantic's Jim Fallows has even started a "False Equivalence Watch" on his blog.

It's bad but at least comprehensible when the press indulges in false equivalence. But why would the president's chief of staff do it? In addition to being untrue, pretending that both sides are equally at fault is politically stupid because it risks alienating your friends and lets your enemies off the hook for truly bad behavior. You would think a guy with Daley's background wouldn't need to be told this. But apparently he does.

Why did Daley say it? I can only conclude that he believes it, and that Obama's newly combative stance against the GOP (which is long overdue) makes his chief of staff uncomfortable. Maybe it's time for the president to shop around for a replacement.