Ari Berman, of The Nation, just published a scathing 3,700-word analysis on the role Montana’s own Jim Messina plays in driving President Barack Obama’s political agenda and reelection campaign.
Messina, of course, was Sen. Max Baucus’ chief of staff until he left to help run Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign.
Berman paints a picture of a tough political enforcer intolerant of dissent and fiercely loyal to his boss. It is not a flattering picture of “the most powerful person in Washington that you haven’t heard of.”
Messina, who has served as Obama’s deputy chief of staff under Rahm Emmanuel, is now running Obama’s reelection campaign. The article portrays Messina as the man responsible for turning the Obama ‘08 campaign of “hope and change” into the Obama administration of “legislative compromises and political timidity.”
“Under Messina, Obama ‘12 could more closely resemble the electoral strategy of Baucus or Bill and Hillary Clinton—cautious, controlling, top-down in structure and devoted to small-bore issues that blur differences between the parties—than Obama ‘08, a grassroots effort on a scale modern politics had never seen.”
The article chronicles Messina’s rise in politics from an organizer in Missoula, to working for Democrats in the Montana Legislature, to working as chief of staff for Sen.Max Baucus.
According to Berman, Messina’s devotion to Baucus played a major role in the Obama administration’s mishandling of the 2009 health care debate:
The administration gave Baucus and his handpicked “gang of six” senators nearly unlimited time to secretly craft a bill, which proved to be one of its most glaring strategic missteps during the healthcare debate. “Some of the difficulty that healthcare is in today is Max’s fault,” says former Montana Democratic Congressman Pat Williams. “He took too long, he tried to satisfy too many—including people that were going to vote against it from the onset—and he gave the opposition time to regroup. That was a bad political decision on his part, and many people out here believe, rightly or wrongly, that Messina was part of that foot-dragging and vacillation.”
Berman digs in to Messina’s Montana past quite a bit. He writes that with Messina as the enforcer, Baucus’ inner-circle was known as “the Montana mafia” for the way they played hard-ball with Montana’s grass-roots Democratic base. Berman chronicles how shortly after Baucus sailed to reelection in 2002 Messina visited Montana Democratic Party chair Bob Ream and demanded that he fire executive director Brad Martin.
The Baucus camp regarded the state party as too grassroots and insufficiently loyal to Baucus. Ream resisted and his executive board unanimously recommended that Martin be retained. Then Baucus insisted that Ream resign. He refused. When Ream ran for re-election in 2004, Messina tried to find somebody to run against him, but could not.
It’s a lengthy piece but well worth the read.