After years of long hours and low-ish pay, many of President Obama's old aides are cashing in on their political connections. But as The New Republic's Noam Scheiber explains, there's some squabbling among the Obama alumni network over who looks like a crass sellout and who's a classy sellout. Scheiber explains in post-Obama circles there's a "loose taboo" against joining a lobbying firm and "explicitly trading on administration connections." It's considered in poor taste to lobby for anti-liberal causes like guns, tobacco, oil, and anti-union groups. It is considered in much better taste to work for the Organizing for America — the advocacy group created from Obama's campaign — and tech and Hollywood rank just below that. Here's the sellout hierarchy:
Operator: Robert Gibbs (right), former White House press secretary.
Taking clout to: Organizing for Action
How classy? Obama for America was converted into this grassroots advocacy group. By definition, the new OFA probably won't advocate for things that Obama is advocating against. When Barack Obama tweets? That's not Barack Obama. That's OFA. It's "a place that could pay top-dollar and wouldn’t damage his reputation among Democrats," Schieber writes. Jim Margolis, a former ad guy for Obama, said, "I hope we’re doing some work for Organizing for Action!"
Operator: Former Obama White House press secretary Robert Gibbs almost got the job; it eventually went to former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
Taking clout to: Facebook, well almost.
How classy? Facebook doesn't (yet) seem like an evil corporation. It's a fun social thing for the youth — Obama's people. Plus, Gibbs works as a barometer for classiness in post-Obama careers. He tried tech first, and when that didn't work, sunk lower to punditry. This year climbed back up to a respectable position at OFA.
Operator: Former Obama speechwriters Jon Lovett and Jon Favreau, former Obama White House spokesman Jim Gilio, former Obama aide Michael Strautmanis.
Taking clout to: Hollywood to be screenwriter or advisers.
How classy? Well, you may not be saving the world, but you can write TV shows that portray your boss's ideas in a flattering light. Favreau is working on a political screenplay, Lovett is working on NBC's comedy 1600 Penn. Strautmanis went to work for Disney on "corporate citizenship," Gilio works for a Los Angeles entertainment firm.
Operators: Former Obama aides David Axelrod (right, trailed by Favreau) and Rober Gibbs
Taking clout to: Cable news!
How classy? As a pundit, you will probably mostly say what your old boss would want you to say. Plus it's a well-worn path. Favreau is writing columns for The Daily Beast, which also publishes former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum and former Bill Clinton aide Paul Begala. Before hiring Gibbs and Axelrod, MSNBC built Steve Schmidt, the John McCain campaign strategist, a remote camera in his Nevada home.
Operators: Former Obama campaign aide Joe Rospars — plus 16 recently hired aides from Obama's 2012 campaign.
Taking class to: Blue State Digital, a social media consulting firm which also employs former Howard Dean campaign aide Jascha Franklin-Hodge, former Wesley Clark campaign aide Thomas Gensemer, former aide to Rep. Steny Hoyer Ryan Seggel. Rospars founded BSD with alums of Howard Dean's failed 2004 presidential campaign.
Classy ranking: They use their political smarts to create viral marketing campaigns. BSD doesn't just do liberal causes and candidates. The firm has done work for Ford, the Green Bay Packers, AT&T, HBO, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Not too classy
Operators: Obama fundraiser Robert Wolf, former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee (at right), former government export-import bank chief of staff Kevin Varney.
Taking clout to: 32 Advisors, a consulting firm that advises on how to do business with the government. The firm's website shows Wolf shaking hands with Obama and boasts of his "broad network of relationships."
How classy? It's not just the consulting that makes it less classy, but the selling of the consulting. "There are those of us who e-mailed it to each other to laugh about it," a former White House official tells TNR. "It’s stunning."
Not classy at all
Operators: Former Obama aide Anita Dunn (left).
Taking clout to: Organizations that works against everything you used to believe in. Dunn is the managing director of SKDKnickerbocker, a major Washington communications firm. "Other firms haven’t concerned themselves with that. Anita Dunn and SKDK worked on the sugar campaign in direct competition with the first lady’s anti-obesity campaign," a former Obama adviser told TNR.
How classy? "We’re very sensitive about not working for anyone that ... might reflect poorly on the president."