Friday, November 7, 2008


As we mentioned here when it was a rumor a week or so ago, Barack Obama has named Rahm Emanuel his chief of staff. Not overly surprising, but annoying, to say the least.

Some people like the choice because he's a fighter, and there's no argument about that. His brutal assault against organized labor and opponents of NAFTA during the first years of the Clinton Administration was how he cut his political teeth (as documented in the must read book "The Selling of Free Trade" by John R. MacArthur). I want a fighter, but Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich were fighters. I want a fighter who cares the slightest bit about passing good legislation, not just stuff that he wrongly ("At the right time we will have a position on the war") thinks will win the next election. Bowers:
Still, that Obama was looking for a Chief of Staff in Rahm's mold is disturbing. Over the last few years, I agree with Kagro X in that it appears that Rahm's defining governing characteristic has been to approach legislation almost entirely from the perspective of how it will play in an election. That is a big negative, both because we just suffered through too much of that during the Bush administration and because it is a erroneous way of viewing the relationship between legislation and elections. People don't vote for or against you because of how you voted in legislation in the abstract. Instead, people vote for or against you because of how the legislation you voted on affected their lives. As such, the key is to pass legislation that will make most people's lives better, not legislation that will look good in the abstract the moment it is passed. The Bush administration was constantly focused on passing legislation that looked good in the abstract the moment it was passed. However, not matter how good the legislation looked once it was passed, it ended up ruining people's lives, and so those people voted against Republicans later on.

It also doesn't help that Emanuel has a very right-wing view on how to win elections. He is vehemently opposed to progressive immigration reform, arguing both that Democratic candidates should ignore immigrants because they don't vote and that women congressional candidates performed poorly in the 2006 elections because they weren't right-wing enough on immigration (see here for more on this). He is afraid of the damage Democrats can take even from the stupidest of right-wing smears, as seen by his organizing of endangered House Democrats to vote against their party on substantively meaningless motions to recommit for fear that such motions can be used in attack ads. He deplores using aggressive tactics against obstructionist Republicans, for fear that such aggression will hurt Democrats among voters. He despises the fifty-state strategy, and grassroots activism in general. He favors wealthy, conservative candidates, and helped elect a more right-wing group of freshman than it appears Van Hollen did even though more blue districts were available in 2006.
(Emphasis mine)
Instead of ranting more about Emmanuel like did I here, here and here, let's just look at it from a practical matter. The chief of staff mostly negotiates with congress, so this is only disappointing because I have funny feeling who will have Rahm's ear, and who definitely won't.

In other appointee news, Obama made David Axelrod a senior adviser, which is a solid move. Axelrod proved to be a shrewed strategist throughout the campaign, so moving him into the Rove/Carville white house position makes sense.

As much as I can't stand Emanuel, at least this isn't cabinet position, where the appointees have significant amounts of autonomy. When those posts start to become filled, we'll go through and rate them one by one to see how his team stacks up in the end.

Update: Chris Bowers another good piece on Rahm, with a truly damning story on the notion that he will be good at taking orders and towing Obama's line:
Second, as far as just taking orders goes, I'd like to relate a story I heard about Emanuel's s role in the Iraq supplemental fight back in early 2007. Representative Obey, who was leading the fight, was convinced that Emanuel, who as Caucus Chair was in the on the senior strategy sessions, was leaking their strategy to the press. To test this theory, Obey leaked some inaccurate information to Emanuel and Emanuel only. When that inaccurate information turned up in the media, Emanuel was kicked out of all further strategy sessions on the Iraq supplemental fight. In short, Emanuel was undermining the House leadership he was supposedly working for during the Iraq supplemental fight.


  1. well, fantastic point made by Bowers there as far as "people voting for or against you due to how what you voted on affected their lives." it's hard to argue with that, really, and you would expect to see more emphasis placed on that from Obama than a straight up electability perspective. again though, maybe it's his efforts to reach out to all parts of the Democratic party. still, a little disconcerting to try to do so with the chief of staff position.

  2. Axelrod and Rahm are close friends. Watch out for that.

  3. I wasn't 100% on that Bowers line. I agree that after a number of years (say eight, for example), the real-world ramifications of certain pieces of policy become clear, and voters begin voting on consequences over appearances. But by then, the source of these consequences is sufficiently obscured by the passage of time that its up to the spin-meisters to divine their origin for the benefit of the bewildered masses.

    In short, I think that it does politically benefit a party to draft legislation that looks good, especially when that legislation won't pass anyways.