Fire your staff, Obama

Milbank and Gelb are right that change is called for. Successful presidents understand cardinal rules about running the White House that unsuccessful presidents do not. It is almost always important for the president to leave behind many from the inner circle who helped win the election. The group that excelled in the politics of campaigning is usually not well-suited to the politics of governing. Carrying forward grudges, perceived slights, and personal alliances can only hamper the president from consolidating leadership of his party, let alone of the nation. Being surrounded by adoring aides who consider themselves a tough-minded Praetorian Guard for having helped win one campaign inculcates habits of exclusivity and exclusion that lead presidents self-destructively into the bunker when the going gets tough, which it always does. When the initial group of advisers causes strain among the team or has depleted whatever talents or ideas it might have, successful presidents remove it and seek replacements in circles very different from those from which the failed, exhausted, or abrasive advisers came…

If the president will not shake up his inner circle, he at least ought to start expanding it and talking seriously with a host of people well outside his comfort zone, much as Lincoln and Reagan—as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who operated through a constantly changing cast of characters—did before him. Staff changes may not be enough to reverse the looming legislative mess over health-care reform, or even win back the support he has lost among traditional Democratic voters in time for the midterm elections. And timing in these matters is delicate. But only the president is indispensable. If a staff shakeup—an obvious measure employed by all successful presidents—does not prove sufficient, it is certainly necessary, and inevitable sooner rather than later if the president is to achieve much of anything, preventing the unmaking of both his own administration and his party.

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