Most of the talk in Democratic circles on Thursday, after it became known that President Obama had chosen William M. Daley as his chief of staff, was of going back to the 1990s. The consensus was that Mr. Obama, who once held himself out as the clear alternative to the political expedience of the Clinton years, had, in the end, chosen the path of Clintonian centrism over a return to more boldly progressive ideals.
If the conventional wisdom was right, though, then it was only half right, and it missed the larger significance of Mr. Obama's decision. The president is, in fact, reaching back to the Clinton era, but that shift has less to do with ideology than with a theory of presidential power and how to use it.
Since the November elections, Mr. Obama has found himself buffeted by critics on both sides of his party's longstanding ideological divide. Liberals have argued that the defeat was brought on by a lack of populist conviction and have pleaded with the White House to get tough with conservatives and corporations. Democrats in the Clinton mold, meanwhile, have pointed to the elections as proof that the administration and its allies in Congress lurched too far left, and they have urged a more bipartisan approach.
...if anything, this week's appointments would seem to represent a continuation of the ideological course Mr. Obama has been following since before he took the oath of office, rather than any substantive shift in his worldview.
But in filling two of the most critical roles in his administration, Mr. Obama did look to the example of the Clinton years in a more consequential way. He signaled that he is ready to take the campaign for his legislative priorities directly to the American people, as Bill Clinton often did, rather than confining it to the 535 Americans who do their business on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
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