Former Washington Post “White House Watch” maven and current DC Huffington Post Bureau Chief Dan Froomkin powerfully deconstructs and pops the Rahm Emanuel bubble that the Washington Post has been puffing up.
The first puff came in a widely read Dana Milbank column. The second appeared on the Post‘s front page today under the authorship of former New York Observer journalist Jason Horowitz.
I have some points of friendly disagreement with Froomkin who paints Emanuel as an effective anti-idealist manipulator in an increasingly soulless and unprincipled, pragmatic Obama White House. As a former executive director of a public policy center named after Richard Nixon, pragmatic realism appeals — but it only matters if goals are reached and deals are sealed that move the nation’s welfare and circumstances forward. Rahm Emanuel’s Machiavellianism, if one can call it that, is a pale, unsuccessful, ineffective version.
That aside, Dan Froomkin’s depiction of Rahm Emanuel’s role in widening the gap between Obama the candidate and Obama the President is brilliantly scripted and needs to be read in its entirety.
But here is a considerable chunk:
The latest toxic meme to spread across the pages of my once-beloved Washington Post is that President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is the one reasonable man in the White House.
First came perpetually disgruntled columnist Dana Milbank, suddenly a little ray of sunshine on the subject of the terribly underappreciated chief of staff: “Obama’s first year fell apart in large part because he didn’t follow his chief of staff’s advice on crucial matters,” Milbank wrote. “Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter.”
According to Milbank, Emanuel is the antidote to “Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs, and, to a lesser extent, David Axelrod” who “are part of the Cult of Obama. In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn’t dirty his hands in politics.”
Then came a front-page “news” story this morning by Jason Horowitz fully subscribing to the “contrarian narrative” that is “emerging” — that “Emanuel is a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts.”
Horowitz cavalierly dismisses criticism of Emanuel as being the inevitable result of his “outsize image” — and, like Milbank, casts Axelrod as a hopeless naïf:
“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”
But Emanuel is not the would-be savior of this presidency. For one thing, there really isn’t that much daylight between him and his boss, or between him and his top White House colleagues.
Had things gone even more his way, it’s possible that he would have squelched a few more of what few bursts of idealism and principle survived Inauguration. But people looking for the reasons why the Obama presidency has not lived up to its promise won’t find the answer amid the minor rifts between key players. Nor will they find the answer in how well or poorly this White House has played the game of politics. The fact is that after a campaign that appealed so successfully to idealism, Obama hired a bunch of saboteurs of hope and change.
Rahm was simply their chief of staff. And now, this hypercompetitive bantam rooster is attempting to blame others for what went wrong. That’s evidently so important to him that he’s trying to take a victory lap around the wreckage of what was once such a promising presidency.
And Froomkin’s kicker reminds of Edward R. Murrow:
Indeed, the most remarkable spectacle here is the ease with which Emanuel has been able to find reliable vessels to carry his water. Oh, to see his media speed-dial, and its collection of nattering process junkies, smug contrarians, split-the-difference stenographers, center-worshipping priests of High Broderism and corporatist cocktail-partiers who enable Emanuel’s brand of soulless political gamesmanship.
To Emanuel, victory is the only thing, and rather than recognize the error of his ways and recalibrate, he is publicly declaring that the now widely-recognized enfeeblement of his boss’s presidency is not his failure, but his vindication. Hail Emanuel triumphant.
Rahm Emanuel has many talents and deserves a place in Obama Land, but he has mismanaged the helm of the operation and failed to hit the targets he and the President needed.
Rather than waging a substantial campaign to save his own skin and to skewer others that are in and out of the Oval Office nearly as much as he is, he needs to help champion a sensible transition to a more effective team.
If we saw Emanuel fix Obama’s current problems by demoting himself and constructing a believable restart, then I might believe more of the Milbank and Jason Horowitz columns about Emanuel’s talents and leadership.
— Steve Clemons
Editor’s Note: For important installments in this debate about the Obama presidency’s inner circle, read this by Edward Luce, this by Steve Clemons, this by Jane Hamsher, and this by Leslie Gelb.