The New York Times Magazine has a lengthy piece about poor put upon Rahm Emanuel. He is so tired of all of the nasty things said about him. He is so tired of the Republicans playing hardball. He is so tired of Democratic activists acting retarded. He is so tired. Period.
He gets blamed for everything he does.
I almost feel sorry for him. Really. Because, ya’ know, he’s just doing his job. There was a reason why Barack ” NOW with a WHOLE 142 days in the Senate!” Obama hired Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. It’s because Obama didn’t know what the hell he was going to do on legislation. He didn’t have enough experience, er, legislatin’. He spend the great bulk of his time in the Senate getting recruited, lining up sponsors and shmoozing the Old Boys Club who liked the cut of his jib and the whack of his mashie niblick. If Obama has any political genius at all (and I have my doubts, big time), it’s being in the right place at the right time with the right genetic mutation for melanocyte expression. But I digress.
I found this segment about Rahm particularly interesting because it shows his usefulness to Obama:
By the time Obama was headed for victory in 2008, Emanuel’s name was coming up as an obvious choice to run the new White House. But he had other ideas. Just a few weeks before the election, we met for one of those expense-account dinners, and he flatly rejected any suggestion that he might become chief of staff. He had set his sights on eventually becoming speaker of the House of Representatives, keenly aware that Nancy Pelosi was approaching 70, as were the two others ahead of him on the Democratic ladder, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn of South Carolina. Emanuel, two decades their junior, could afford to wait them out and would still have a long tenure ahead of him in the speaker’s chair. The typical White House chief of staff, he knew all too well, lasted only two years or so. And then what?
There you go. Obama needed someone to interface on his behalf with Congress and he needed someone who swung a big dick. That was Emanuel’s job. He serves at the pleasure of the president. When he is no longer pleasuring the president, he’ll be out. But then, Obama will have to find an Emanuel replacement. Someone who knows who’s in, who’s out. Someone who understands the legislative process because they’ve actually had to work it.
But replacing Rahm won’t make the legislation better or Obama more to our liking. After all, Rahm is only carrying out what Obama wants to do. And by the looks of it, it isn’t much. If you read the piece, you get the idea that maybe Rahm wanted to approach health care incrementally by expanding medicaid and SCHIP. Stuff like that might have been doable and a good stop gap measure while the Obama administration worked on more pressing issues like the economy. Rahm would have known what this congress was capable of since he was one of the chief architects for bringing some nasty conservative actors into the Democratic fold.
(BTW, I am noticing a troubling tendency of the NYTimes to refer to these blue dog reactionary elements as ‘moderates’. They’re not.)
The country voted in Democrats in 2008, or what they *thought* were Democrats anyway. They could have voted in small government, tax cutting, hard hearted, authoritarian, rugged individualist, dog-eat-dog, Hobbseian, warmongering, Glenn Beck worshipping, Enron-esque Republicans instead but it appears the country was tired of them so they voted those types out in favor of the party who they thought would protect their nest eggs, jobs, civil rights, reproductive rights and put the country back on the right track.
When it came to health care reform, Obama decided to go for comprehensive reform. But he was more interested in the kill (enter Emanuel) than the policy. He ordered Rahm to do the dirty work and just get it done. So, Rahm did the bi-partisan thing and got a bill, any bill. In it, the Republicans have gotten their pound of flesh. They were never going to sign off on the thing anyway but like predators toying with their food first, they have been seeing just how far the Obama was willing to go to score health care reform. Now they know and we know that Obama was willing to negotiate with insurance company terrorists, backstab their most fervent union supporters and betray everything Democrats ran for when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. If the Democrats pass this bill, it will be a Republican triumph.
We have to wonder why Obama, and let’s put the blame where it belongs, it is Obama, was so eager and anxious to pass health care reform without really reforming health care. Let’s put aside the fact that he didn’t really have a plan. He was just crudely plagiarizing Hillary’s plan during the primaries, that is, when he wasn’t trying to stab her in the back with Harry and Louise ads. I don’t think he really came to the White House with well developed policies on anything, and it shows. So much for his political gifts. In essence, here was a guy obsessed with winning at all costs but had absolutely no idea what to do once he got there. So, he hires Rahm.
But why health care? Why is it so important to score a win in that area above everything else? Why does this POS legislation have to have his stamp on it before the 2010 elections? If it passes and there is no meaningful reconciliation before he elections, there will certainly be none after the Democrats lose their majorities. And Republicans will fight tooth and nail from now until November to keep Democrats from fixing the bill. They like it just the way it is. It’s going to disgust the Democratic base.
So, why would Obama and the Democrats walk into a trap like this, other than the obvious reason that Republicans can control the message and play this game so much better than they do? Could it be because Hillary is still out there? After all, Obama’s numbers took a dip in the past couple of weeks. Right on schedule, the Washington Post writes about how Hillary Clinton runs the State Department. Actually, except for the gratuitous bit of revisionist history at the beginning and generally negative spin such pieces are famous for, it sounds like she’s doing a pretty good job of winning her employees’ loyalty and staying on top of things. She is practicing what appears to be a political version of Lemov’s rules, making cold calls, keeping everyone on their toes and engaging in debate with people who may not agree with her (she then rewards them). Um, she sounds like the ideal boss, to be honest. I want to work for Hillary. I’m betting that if Rahm could ever get over his macho, testosterone fueled disdain for Hillary Clinton, he might wish he were working for her too. And she’s still out there. If Obama doesn’t put his stamp on health care reform, there’s always that remote possibility that Democratic moneybags who still have some Democrat principles will want to give Hillary a shot in 2012.
But enough wistful regret at what might have been. This is the reality: Obama is out of his league, he’s naive at a in our nation’s history when naivete is a phenotype we should be selecting against and he’s got a fricking pitbull for a Chief of Staff. There is enough stuff in here about Rahm’s workouts in the House gym and pressure tactics he employs there that make Massa’s report of an encounter with him very credible.
The Republicans are taking the Democrats to the cleaners because, damn it!, they just play 11 dimensional chess better. We don’t have to love their policies to admire their ability to adapt to their environment and survive. Nancy Pelosi is smart enough to know the White House is playing the strategy badly but, hey, she was also stupid enough to buy into the “easy win with the first black president” idea back in 2008. Nooooo, can’t have Hillary. The press would savage her, like she wasn’t winning in spite of all the $%^& they hurled at her during the primaries. What Pelosi and her ilk failed to realize is that the Republican tactics that have been so successful blindsided the Clintons in 1992. But they adapted and Hillary had a much better chance of neutralizing them in 2008 because she learned from experience. Obama ran on his advertised political gifts and newness but has no experience whatsoever. In any area. So, Pelosi is a very slow learner but now she has a clue, as do many other Democrats who were infatuated with Obama and assumed he was a demigod of political gifts.
Too bad they stuck us with a newbie against a party full of Gary Kasparovs.