Bogeymen of the far left deserve a place in any Biden administration
Over Labor Day the Biden campaign perfunctorily announced a team for any presidential transition; a co-chair is Jeff Zients, a prominent Obama official.
The Democratic left immediately protested that Zients was a creature of the finance industry. Incredibly, a Biden spokesman explained he was picked for his management skills not policy expertise.
Zients ran Obama’s National Economic Council for three years, and received high praise from Obama as “wicked smart” and a trusted adviser, who put out fires and championed legislation crucial for the working poor and regulations that cracked down on unsavory business and financial practices.
After the administration totally screwed up the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, paying a big political and policy price, it was Zients who straightened it out.
This is a guy you want involved in policy if Biden is president.
It’s only the latest among the delusions and perceived dangers of the party’s left wing, despite Bernie Sanders’ very accommodating pact with and enthusiastic support for the former vice president.
They’re trying to flex muscles they don’t have.
Another example was when Sen. Ed Markey — with the vocal support of socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — upset challenger Joe Kennedy in the recent Massachusetts primary. But this wasn’t an ideological test. Kennedy never offered a rationale to replace the respected veteran lawmaker. The same day, in the Bay State, several left wingers lost congressional challenges.
Every indicator — polls, the 2018 midterm contests, this year’s presidential primaries and the agenda for most Democratic candidates in battleground states this fall — underscore a clear conclusion: This is a progressive, slightly to the left of center party. It is not an AOC-Bernie Sanders socialist crusade.
If Biden wins, the most important push back will come from the center not the left. The challenges will be so daunting that establishing ideological litmus tests for appointments would be politically suicidal.
For top jobs, Biden would need to tap a diverse collection, probably — in today’s climate — excluding K Street lobbyists. He needs to include liberals and traditionalists; insiders and fresh blood; members of Congress; a few of his campaign rivals, such as former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and vice presidential runners-up like California Rep. Karen Bass; public interest advocates, enlightened labor and business leaders.
Which brings us back to Jeff Zients.
First, he’s not a creature of Wall Street. Since 2017 he has run Cranemere, a holding company that partners with and holds on to companies; it’s different from hedge fund and private equity vultures.
I’m pretty certain I favor higher individual and corporate taxes than does Zients — or Biden — and believe the Obama administration made a big mistake in not prosecuting some Wall Street perpetrators of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Zients once is reported to have said he “fell in love with the culture” at Bain Consulting, where he started after school.
He’s probably found more admirable cultures, and his record in public service is enormously impressive — and progressive. He championed tax breaks for the working poor that lifted millions out of poverty, extending overtime pay for millions of workers and regulations cracking down on predatory lending and shady retirement advisers.
He may be anathema to some left wingers who like to talk the talk. But for decades, no one has more walked the walk for poor people and economic equity than Bob Greenstein, president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the most effective liberal advocacy group in Washington.
I asked Greenstein about Zients: “He was a voice and an ally for measures to reduce poverty and inequality and support low-and-moderate income families, not for steps favoring corporations or the wealthy.”
That’s good enough for me.
It’s jumping much too far ahead, but if Biden becomes president, hopefully he’ll bring in lots of fresh faces and a few of the more vibrant Obama stars — like Sylvia Burwell and Jeff Zients.
NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to correct the firm Zients worked for immediately after college: it was Bain Consulting.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.