One of the many things that the Bush White House was criticized for was the lack of a meaningful distinction between the policy apparatus and the political operation. Of course, this conflation was personified by the role that political advisor Karl Rove played in formulating Bush’s policy initiatives and priorities.
Despite assertions that the Obama White House would do a better job keeping politics and policy separate, David Axelrod seems to be reprising the Karl Rove role. First, it has been reported that Axelrod was intimately involved in the TARP II planning, strenuously arguing for tougher executive pay limits. Second, Axelrod has become a fixture on the Sunday morning talk shows. Granted such appearances would be absolutely appropriate to communicate the president’s policy decisions. But his appearances seem to indicate just how deeply involved he’s been in formulating those policies.
Of course, as a political scientist, I’m not naive enough to think that it possible (or even always desirable) to keep political and policy deliberations separate. But because there is always the temptation for the political considerations to overwhelm the policy ones, maintaining some wall of separation is important. Otherwise, every decision becomes politicized. I certainly hope that the Obama White House doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the Bush White House.