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Rahm Emanuel

Since at least one commenter has asked about this specifically, here are a few thoughts about what Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief of staff means.  First, it apparently means that many Obama supporters are going to freak out over an important, but not major appointment, or they are going to find themselves very disappointed to discover that Obama is, in fact, a Chicago politician who is interested in pushing his agenda rather than being the national psychotherapist they seem interested in finding.  (Just wait until he names Lugar or Hagel to his Cabinet–then we’ll see some more justified panic from the left.)  From what I think I know about Emanuel, he is one of the DLC-type “centrist” hawkish Democrats who emerged during the Clinton years, he was a masterful organizer of the DCCC’s campaign in 2006 as he maximized Democratic gains in a favorable year, and he is as aggressive as Obama is calm.  Rolling Stone’s 2005 profile gives you some idea of what you can expect from him:

For years, Emanuel was the political brains of Bill Clinton’s White House. Intense to the point of ferocity, he was known for taking on the most daunting tasks — the ones no one else wanted — and pulling off the seemingly impossible, from banning assault weapons to beating back the Republican-led impeachment. “Clinton loved Rahm,” recalls one staffer, “because he knew that if he asked Rahm to do something, he would move Heaven and Earth — not necessarily in that order — to get it done.”

One thing we can take away from this is that Obama’s White House is going to be run competently, and staff, appointments and policy proposals are going to be handled effectively.  Obama will still be patient and deliberative before moving, but when he does move having Emanuel as his chief of staff suggests that they will move quickly and aggressively to advance their agenda.  Pelosi’s loss is definitely Obama’s gain, and evidently Emanuel concluded that he could be more effective and influential as chief of staff.  Of course, it will help Obama enormously to have both a veteran of a previous administration and a former member of the House leadership working at his side.  For whatever it’s worth, according to the profile, Emanuel has had a good relationship with the netroots.  This is obviously an important progresssive constituency that Obama has not cultivated as much as they would have liked, preferring to create his own parallel grassroots movement, so I would expect the typical Kossack reaction to this selection to be mostly positive.

Jeffrey Goldberg makes the point that this should quash all fears that Obama is not sufficiently “pro-Israel.”   For the same reason, those expecting some significant break with set policy on Israel and Palestine are going to be less than thrilled.   

Steve Clemons makes some interesting observations on the potential significance of this for Obama’s foreign policy:

My greatest fear about Emanuel is that he might perpetuate a “false choice” orientation towards Israel in Middle East affairs that he’s going to have to compensate for and get under control. There are no rational alternatives in the Middle East than actually delivering on a Palestinian state and finally putting the Middle East peace business out of business.

Emanuel needs to prove his judiciousness by not preempting serious progress in Israel/Palestine affairs and not encouraging Barack Obama to make the mistake of trying to define his presidency by exploiting some national security conflict. There are downsides to the JFK comparison.

Of course, if Obama is already heading in these directions, Emanuel’s encouragement or lack of it won’t make much difference.


I also noticed this in the Emanuel profile:

His younger brother, Ari, is a Hollywood talent agent who served as the inspiration for Ari Gold, the fast-talking agent played by Jeremy Piven on HBO’s hit series Entourage.

Update: John Boehner seems intent on reminding people why he should not be minority leader:

This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center [bold mine-DL].

I guess you have to use the spin you have, but this is weak.  Of course, one reason for selecting Emanuel is that Obama is probably going to set an agenda that is much more “centrist” and incrementalist and therefore more disappointing to progressives.  It is also therefore much more threatening to the Republicans, because they will have a harder time peeling away Blue Dog Democrats on major pieces of legislation.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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