Rahm: The Man, The Myth, The Failure?

For Your Reading

There has been a lot of talk recently about Obama’s inner circle and its effectiveness. Particularly in the news recently has been Rahm Emanuel. The discussions began months ago, but I’d begin with Dana Milbank’s column, where he argued that the problem in the White House isn’t Rahm, but that the President doesn’t listen to him. He begins by pointing to other articles that serve as a good preface to this discussion:

It is the current fashion to blame President Obama’s disappointing first year on his chief of staff. “First, remove Rahm Emanuel,” writes Leslie Gelb in the Daily Beast, because he lacks “the management skills and discipline to run the White House.”

The Financial Times’s Ed Luce reports that the “famously irascible” Emanuel has “alienated many of Mr. Obama’s closest outside supporters,” while the New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons lumps Emanuel in with the “Core Chicago Team Sinking Obama Presidency.”

They join liberal interests who despised Emanuel long before he branded them “retarded.” Jane Hamsher of firedoglake.com, together with conservative activist Grover Norquist, demanded a Justice Department investigation into Emanuel, who is “far too compromised to serve as gatekeeper to the president.”

His argument in the end is, however, that

“Obama’s first year fell apart in large part because he didn’t follow his chief of staff’s advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter.”

This was followed up by a new story from the Washington Post by Jason Horowitz, which had as its thrust that Rahm is doing an alright job. Then David Broder, the so-called dean of the Washington press corps, attacked his own paper’s reporting and Dana, which is surprising, as you wouldn’t expect “the Post’s marquee political writer of the past 40 years [to] beat up on the Post.”

Nevertheless, if you are interested in White House politics in general, or Rahm in particular, there are a few other articles worth mentioning. The New Republic had a detailed piece on how much it sucks to be White House Chief of Staff: “Laboring as White House chief of staff is fantastically difficult under any circumstances, something Emanuel learned well as an aide to Bill Clinton. Former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card famously arrived at the White House by 5:30 each morning and stayed until eight or nine each night. But laboring as chief of staff during the first year or two of a presidency can be a prolonged form of torture.”

Which leads finally to this  weekend’s upcoming NY Times Magazine profile of Rahm released on the NY Times website yesterday. The entire article (the longest I’ve linked to here) is full of details. For example, it has a very good and compact description of the legislative headache of trying to get the health care bill created last year in Congress. It also has a good description of the liberal criticism, the moderation that Rahm has fought for, and then enjoyable throw away paragraphs like

Emanuel wants to jam a wedge into the fissure inside the Republican Party between, as he frames it, the descending wing that believes in small government and the ascending wing that believes in no government. Republicans lose, in this theory, whether they cooperate with Obama or not. “We’ve got to drive the ball at them,” a senior White House official told me. “Driving the ball at them, making them pick between small government and no government, putting them in their responsibility-and-accountability box. You walk away? You’re walking away from responsibility, and the public’s angry at you. You participate? Your base hates you.”

I’m not sure whether Rahm is effective or not. In fact, I think it is impossible to tell given how our information is filtered through anonymous sources. There have obviously been strategic mistakes by Rahm, but also David Axlerod and, dare I say it, the President. Rahm is doing what he can to calm the fire: both the New Republic story and the Times story pointed out that Rahm wouldn’t participate in the reporting, and the Times noted that the president was “irritated by the stories,” and Emanuel has “expressed regret.” This all goes to show that as Chief of Staff, praise or criticism, press attention is negative either way.