NPR logo Obama 2.0 Looking Ever More Like Clinton 2.0

Obama 2.0 Looking Ever More Like Clinton 2.0

President Obama with Gene Sperling (l) his new director of the National Economic Council and Katharine G. Abraham, a new member of his Council of Economic Advisers. Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

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President Obama with Gene Sperling (l) his new director of the National Economic Council and Katharine G. Abraham, a new member of his Council of Economic Advisers.


President Obama may owe former President Bill Clinton a few finder's fees, considering all the former Clinton aides he's been bringing into his administration to help him get through the next two years and win a second term.

Gene Sperling, who Obama announced Friday as the new director of the White House National Economic Council, is the latest Clinton retread, along with Katharine Abraham, an economist who was named to the Council of Economic Advisors who worked in Clinton's Labor Department.

Those Friday announcements followed by a day the naming of William Daley as the new White House chief of staff. Daley, of course, was a Clinton Administration Commerce Secretary.

Nothing unusual in any of this, of course. Presidents of both parties reach back to previous administrations of the same party for talent. That way they get people who've already been in the trenches.

Tried and tested aides are especially important when the president is dealing with a hostile Congress controlled in part or fully by the other party. That is certainly true now for Obama as it was for Clinton during his second term.

NPR's Scott Horsley reported for All Things Considered Friday on how Sperling was introduced to the world during his first stint as a high-profile, if short of stature presidential adviser.

Obama notes Sperling has held the director's job before —during the Clinton administration.  Sperling joked in a 2006 speech that his last White House assignment began awkwardly, when his five foot five inch frame was dwarfed behind a lectern set up for the six-foot-two-inch President Clinton.

"I just got up on my tip-toes as high as I could.  And so on live tv, the leader of the free world tapped me on the shoulder, and then he kicks a little button and a step would come out.  And so that was my first ten seconds of being the national economic advisor."

There was no repeat of that today.  Sperling didn't even approach the lectern.  But Mr. Obama praised his new advisor's intelligence and his work ethic. So did Berkeley Economist Laura Tyson, who was Sperling's boss at the Council in the early 1990s.

"Gene is a workaholic. He works morning, noon, and night, and he's a great asset in terms of getting the job done."

Sperling's biggest job in the Clinton years was helping to turn budget deficits into surpluses...often through negotiation with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"He has a history of working with the Republican Congress. So that experience should serve him well in this round."

For the last two years, Sperling has been an advisor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.  He helped broker the tax cut compromise with Republicans during the lame duck session of Congress...

... Sperling's Clinton-era colleague Laura Tyson calls him a "progressive centrist."  That label that might also be applied to President Obama in this second half of his term.  Tyson says the goals are still progressive.  But the means to get there have a pro-business tilt.

"You have to bring along the business community.  You have to bring along the private sector. Because the private sector is the generator of jobs."

Politico noted that Sperling's selection has drawn liberal fire because of his work for Goldman Sachs in recent years in which he drew an impressive salary in 2008 or $900,000.

He's also drawn some of the blame for what the left considers some of Clinton Administration's caves to congressional Republicans in the 1990s.

But Politico reported that people who know Sperling say he actually has more in common with the liberals who've been denouncing his selection than he does with Wall Street bankers.

The education of young girls and women in poor countries has been Sperling’s main endeavor since the Clinton years, most of them spent rather quietly at different progressive think tanks, according to his biography...

... After advising Clinton, “nobody was in a better condition to cash in, and didn’t” said the former official, who spoke on condition on anonymity. “Gene just wasn’t interested. He never had much to do with those guys [on Wall Street] and all he ever wanted to talk about was universal education.”

A half-dozen other initiatives that Sperling took on after leaving the White House include the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which raised roughly $150 million to educate 350,000 children in war torn-countries. The venture included the participation of movie superstar Angelina Jolie.

Rock star-activist Bono is also a Sperling fan, having worked with him on an international effort to forgive the debts of third world countries, according to an official at Bono’s One campaign.