If you worked in the West Wing, you would find “a distinctive whiff of the boardroom” throughout the offices and corridors today, according to Julie Mason, the Washington Examiner’s White House correspondent. That’s how she describes the difference between Obama’s new chief of staff, William Daley, and the “political operatives” who Daley will oversee.

I like the “whiff of the boardroom” line. Julie’s article explores some of the negative reaction that has greeted President Obama’s decision to invite Daley, a JP Morgan Chase executive committee member, to work in the White House. This criticism rests on the idea that since Daley is connected with Wall Street, he will put the financial sector’s interests first, rather than the country’s interests.

Daley already stands accused of planning unpatriotically to use the government to shelter Wall Street from any cold winds, while the rest of the economy shivers unprotected.

Can someone like Daley, dripping with “Eau de Wall Street,” also be patriotic, do his duty, and put the national interest first, above his own narrow economic interests?

Let’s look at this question from the following perspective.

Every American knows the following names: George Washington; Abraham Lincoln; Franklin Roosevelt.

But do you know Robert Morris, Jay Cooke, and Marriner Eccles?

Robert Morris, a Philadelphia banker, uses his financial smarts to help Washington win the Revolutionary War and establish the American Republic. 

Jay Cooke, another Philadelphia banker, rendered similar services to President Lincoln during the US Civil War – without Cooke’s financial wizardry, the North could not have sustained the difficult struggle to save the Union.

Marriner Eccles, a Utah banker, served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve at FDR’s request starting in 1934, and worked with the White House to get Americans working again after the pain of the Great Depression.

Morris, Cooke, Eccles – they lived in different times, but what unites them is a common patriotic feeling that, their banking/financial background aside, their fortunes were tied to the fortunes of their country.

In trading their private ledgers and account books for important roles in public affairs, these money-men demonstrated something commendable.

To paraphrase a speech by Revolutionary War orator John Hurt, Morris, Cooke and Eccles all realized that they could not “take a share of the benefits” of being Americans, and “yet leave the burden [of protecting the country’s interests] to be borne by others.”

That is, they saw a firm connection between their private interests and their public duties. They recognized that whatever endangered America was a danger to themselves as well; and whatever damage these dangers might inflict on America would in turn hurt their own interests. 

What’s the lesson here for William Daley? Like Morris, Cooke and Eccles, the best way for him to overcome suspicions stemming from his “distinctive whiff of the boardroom” will be to do his duty and consistently put the national interest at the center of all his decision-making, all his public statements and all his private advice to the President. (Not easy to do in an age of “permanent” political campaigns, by any stretch of the imagination.)

Within the context of the Great Recession, Daley's duty is to demonstrate, through word and deed, that he knows his fortunes are tied to the fortunes of the country – particularly hard-hit, tangible-production-oriented sectors of the economy like manufacturing, agriculture and small business. 

Daley's specific duty is to work to bring these sectors back to health, to argue behind the scenes that doing so must be the Obama Administration's top domestic priority, and help unite the Obama team behind this goal.

If Daley can do his duty, as Morris, Cooke and Eccles did their duty, then that “whiff of the boardroom” won’t seem so overpowering as it does right now -- and his critics will be forced to admit that bankers and financiers can be patriots, too.