Edward Luce of the Financial Times has an extraordinary inside account of the dysfunction in the White House bred by the president’s reliance on a tiny coterie of advisors. As described by Luce, the locus of power in the White House resides in a starting five: POTUS, senior adviser David Axelrod, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and spokes/visor Robert Gibbs. The president’s tiny team, writes Luce, dominate the decision-making process, and insist on a starring role in policy arenas where they have little expertise. On the president’s recent trip to China, policy experts were left waiting in the wings as Gibbs, Axelrod, and Jarrett predominated. It was like the Obama campaign was visiting China, said one senior China expert who describes being relegated to the back of the motorcade. The chief problem Luce identifies with White House teamwork is that the president’s point guard is not the kind of star player who makes his teammates better:
Administration insiders say the famously irascible Mr Emanuel treats cabinet principals like minions. I am not sure the president realises how much he is humiliating some of the big figures he spent so much trouble recruiting into his cabinet, says the head of a presidential advisory board who visits the Oval Office frequently. If you want people to trust you, you must first place trust in them.
The president has also staked his political capital on Rahm’s high-risk, high-reward approach:
The whole Rahm Emanuel approach is that victory begets victory, the success of healthcare would create the momentum for cap-and-trade and then financial sector reform, says one close ally of Mr Obama. But what happens if the first in the sequence is defeat?