The president-elect's new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel—a pro business quasi neocon whose middle name is Israel—gives the lie to the wildest myths Obama's opponents spread about him in the campaign.
UPDATE: Emanuel has accepted Obama's offer, Politico reports.
President-elect Barack Obama’s offer to Rahm Emanuel of the job of chief of staff tells more about how he intends to run the White House than his uplifting campaign rhetoric about post-partisan niceness. The selection of Emanuel signals that he apparently wants to operate with ideological moderation, speed and skull-cracking political toughness.
“Rahm Emanuel is a preternatural political force, a man of extraordinary intelligence, skill and toughness who has learned about politics and policy on the streets of Chicago and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. A fascinating choice for Obama as White House Chief of Staff,” Thomas E. Mann, the W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Daily Beast Wednesday.
Will Emanuel be content to sit on the sidelines and simply enforce President Obama’s policy without trying to influence it?
Among other things, Obama’s pick of Rahm Israel Emanuel, whose father is of Israeli origin, gives the lie to an endless wild myths that political enemies have tirelessly spread during the campaign that he was supposed to be a closest America-hater and no doubt anti-Semite because of his Kenyan background and boyhood in Indonesia. Emanuel, nicknamed “Rahmbo” by his colleagues, is a quasi neo-con hawk on foreign policy, tough champion of the war on terror, and advocate of crackdowns on crime. Obama was accused of being a “socialist” and hater of big business, but Emanuel was managing director in the Chicago office of a major global investment bank, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, where he made millions.
The notion that Obama would prove too naïve for the wicked ways of Washington and quail before the alleged leftist agenda of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is belied by the bold choice of Emanuel.
Making Emanuel chief of staff—and putting the word out the day after his historic election victory—tells Washington that Obama is going to push through his political and policy agenda Chicago-style—not the San Francisco way. For Emanuel is going to be Obama’s Karl Rove and John Sununu, Sr. combined.
Far from deferring to Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Emanuel’s job description will centrally involve negotiating and even reining in the congressional leadership—through sweetness and light or arm-twisting. Although only 48, a year older than the president-elect, his experience is already vast. He is competent, forceful, confident, and abrasive. He is a triathelete and has won a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet. One brother, Ari, is a forceful, confident and abrasive Hollywood agent who is the prototype for the HBO series Entourage. Another brother, Ezekiel, is a bioethicist at the Harvard Medical School.
Emanuel made his first notable mark in politics as chief fundraiser for Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago in his reelection campaign of 1989, the credential that got him the post of finance director for candidate Bill Clinton in his 1992 campaign. He was so abrasive early in Clinton‘s administration as political director that his foul mouth was credited with Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama’s defection from the Democrats to the Republicans, so enraged was he by Emanuel’s arrogance and contempt. The president sought to dismiss him, but he simply refused to go and decamped to an office he occupied in the Old Executive Office Building right beside the White House. He crept back by running the operation with Bill Daley, the Chicago mayor’s brother, that won congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In Clinton’s second term, Emanuel was deputy chief of staff, leaving to make his fortune.
Elected in 2002, Congressman Emanuel is to the right of Pelosi on a host of issues. He is also to the right of his new boss on foreign policy, trade and criminal justice issues. Emanuel enthusiastically supported the invasion in Iraq and will make no apologies for it. He has contempt for Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean as weak and feckless. His House colleagues chose him to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2006 midterm campaign. He served as its chief fundraiser and selector of candidates, campaigned tirelessly, lost 14 pounds from his already slight frame, and won the Democrats back control of the House for the first time in 12 years. Since 2007, he has been chairman of the majority Democratic caucus in the House, the fourth highest position in the chamber. If he chose to wait, he might have become Speaker. But he is never one to sit patiently. As he considers Obama’s offer, the prospect of raw power at the right hand of the Democratic president with the largest popular mandate in 44 years and two majorities in the Congress may be too much to resist.
Obama’s decision to make Emanuel his chief of staff reveals the president-elect’s determination to pass his priority legislation as fast as possible. Obama will call the shots and Emanuel, if he accepts the job, will fire them. Speaker Pelosi, whose national popularity ratings in the now departing 110th Congress were lower than Bush’s abysmal standing, will find that her former top lieutenant will be giving, not receiving orders.
Will Emanuel be content to sit on the sidelines and simply enforce President Obama’s policy without trying to influence it? Of course not. He will be where he has always been and wanted to be—in the heat of the kitchen, not only enduring the high temperatures but raising them. His friends rightly say he is experienced and effective. His critics, with equal rightness, say he is hyper-partisan, arrogant, mean, relentless, bullying, and an spoiled brat determined to get his own way. All of which only explains why Barack Obama picked him for the job.
Above all, Emanuel should be expected to be passionately loyal to his friend and fellow Chicagoan who has just fulfilled his deepest wish—to be a player at the epicenter of the actio n.
Martin Sieff is defense industry editor of United Press International and UPI‘s former chief political correspondent. He was State Department correspondent for The Washington Times and has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.