Long live the Office of Political Affairs

LONG LIVE THE OFFICE OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS…. There’s been a fair amount of talk of late, arguing that Barack Obama should dismantle the White House political office altogether. I understand the point — political operations should be left to the national parties — and I can appreciate how destructive the office appears given its disproportionate power in the Bush White House, but I’m glad Obama has resisted the push and will the keep the office in place.

Tim Fernholz had a very good item about this a couple of weeks ago.

The Obama team isn’t promoting some goo-goo, Carter-esque vision of the innocent country folk coming to D.C. to end all those bad practices put in place by shady influences. That’s a recipe for getting rolled, and no one will see any change come of it. To change things, you need to be able to organize coalitions and move political power. The idea that you can do that without people who understand the way politics works being part of the discussion is kind of laughable. It’s the same kind of foolishness you get from folks who decry partisanship simply because they don’t like conflict. […]

It’s time for real talk, and that means we can’t pretend that politics doesn’t have anything to do with policymaking, or that America’s politician-in-chief shouldn’t have political advisers. It would be nice to live in a world where the president could dismantle the political office and not get eaten alive by his political opponents, but we don’t.

With this mind, the Obama transition announced yesterday that the Office of Political Affairs will remain in place, and it will be led by Patrick Gaspard, a longtime labor activist with the SEIU and the national political director for the Obama campaign.

An Obama transition spokeswoman said that keeping the office open does not mean the president-elect will default on his campaign promise to change politics-as-usual in Washington, which as a candidate he dubbed the “perpetual campaign.”

“An Obama White House will be focused on meeting the next challenge, not winning the next election,” transition spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote in an email Friday evening. “That is what he promised in the campaign and that is how he will govern.”

To my mind, there’s nothing especially offensive about having a White House office, as Fernholz put it, “considering the political implications of policy choices.” The problem with the office over the last eight years is that the line was blurred out of existence — the political considerations drove and shaped the policy choices. You had partisan operatives making policy and dictating the White House’s direction.

The office will remain, but its use will likely become more sensible.