Fineman: Who Will Have Obama's Ear?

Barack Obama likes to listen. But as President, there will be a limit to how much time he can devote to it. Who has his ear? A survey of Obama's inner circles (that's plural): The Chicago Crew Washington will be the Windy City on the Potomac; the locals will bring a pragmatic style that sees any problem as a municipal one writ large (there is, as they say, no ideology in snow removal). Mayor Richard Daley and his banker brother William are mentors. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Richard Daley ally from downstate, will be the go-to guy in the Senate. The billionaire Pritzker and Crown families supplied early fundraising contacts (as did investment banker John Rogers), and Penny Pritzker, Obama's finance chair, is likely to get the commerce-secretary job. Valerie Jarrett, a former Daley staffer who once hired Michelle Obama for a city job, is the Obamas' closest personal and political friend; she is likely to be a presence in the White House. So is Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a Daley protégé, who may well be in line to become chief of staff.

Council of Elders Obama is the kind of serious, ambitious young man who attracts veterans to his side. And party labels seem to matter little to him. Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republicans' leading light on foreign policy, was an early Obama ally, and remains one. Put Paul Volcker, Warren Buffett and Gen. Colin Powell in this category, too. In Obama, Powell sees a man who could inspire the young and increasingly multicultural officer corps, and Powell has said that Obama is one of the most receptive and perceptive "briefs" he has conducted.

Clintonistas For the Clintons, losing to Obama was bad enough. Now they have to endure the spectacle of Obama's surrounding himself with the best and the brightest of the Clinton administration. It's not surprising: these are the Democrats with the most experience and, if Obama chooses carefully, the best performance record. Through his son Jamie, former Treasury secretary (and current Citibank chairman) Bob Rubin is in this new circle. So is another former Clinton Treasury secretary, Larry Summers, who could be asked to go another round. John Podesta, a former Clinton chief of staff, runs a think tank that may supply a host of midlevel officials. Laura Tyson, who was Clinton's economic adviser, is now performing a similar function. Since he was running against Senator Clinton, Obama was reluctant to credit her husband's economic track record; now Obama is seeking the advice of the people responsible for it.

Old Stomping Grounds Although he has been in the Senate only four years, Obama has forged key friendships. Sen. John Kerry endorsed Obama early; Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who has been critical of GOP policy in Iraq, may join the administration. Former senator Tom Daschle furnished Obama with an entire Senate staff—his—and has served as the campaign wise man. Obama staffers from the Senate, such as Karen Kornbluh (domestic policy) and Susan Rice (foreign policy), will remain key players, even as the think tank Kornbluh was with—the centrist, market-oriented New America Foundation—gets layered by Podesta's more traditional Democratic types.

Ivy Tech Educated at Columbia and Harvard Law, Obama has drawn to his side an impressive cadre of similarly credentialed types, most of them entrepreneurs who are smart about rising sectors of the new economy, especially communications and digital technology. It helps explain why Obama's campaign was a cutting-edge exercise in phone, texting and Web-based salesmanship: it's the business that many of those around him know well, and they will be pushing the use of these techniques (and the prerogatives of these industries) in and around the White House. The lead player in the group is Julius Genachowski, who went to Columbia and Harvard with Obama and worked on digital startups with Barry Diller. Others include two former chairs of the Federal Communications Commission, Reed Hundt and Bill Kennard, who were major fundraisers, too.

Join the Discussion