RUN, RAHM, RUN: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley‘s announcement that he will not seek a seventh term has prompted speculation that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will run for Daley’s post. “I’d be shocked if he doesn’t run,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post.
The sooner Emanuel leaves Washington, the better for Barack Obama. His White House is desperately in need of a serious shake-up, especially with Democrats facing a tidal wave of losses in the midterms. I’ll never quite understand why a transformational candidate chose the ultimate old-school inside operator to control his administration. Emanuel isn’t solely to blame for diluting Obama’s outsider brand, but he’s a major factor. In the Clinton White House and in Congress, he was often at odds with the very grassroots activists who powered Obama’s campaign. As chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, he famously clashed with party chair Howard Dean and recruited Blue Dog candidates at the expense of progressive challengers. He brought his corporate centrism to the White House, pushing for a smaller-than-needed stimulus bill, urging Obama not to pursue healthcare reform, watering down the bill when he did and calling progressive activists who wanted to pressure obstructionist Democrats “fucking retarded.”
Emanuel’s alleged biggest asset—his ties to Capitol Hill and intricate knowledge of Beltway politics—has paid few dividends for Obama. The president’s legislative agenda has hit a brick wall in the Senate, and the dysfunction of the Democratic Congress, which Emanuel did little to tame, helps explain why voters are set to punish the party in power this November. “If picking the leading practitioner of the dark arts of the capital was a Faustian bargain for Obama in the name of getting things done, why haven’t things got done?” asked Peter Baker of the New York Times in a profile titled “The Limits of Rahmism.”
In a series of articles last spring, Emanuel or those close to him were quoted blaming others in the Obama White House for the president’s problems. But if Emanuel really is the most powerful chief of staff in modern history, then he deserves his share of the blame when things don’t go according to plan, especially since he devised the plan.
So what, exactly, qualifies Emanuel to run America’s third-largest city? That’s what the Progressive Campaign Change Committee and other critics are asking. “I will not support Rahm Emanuel in any future election for Congress, Mayor of Chicago, Governor, or other office,” says a petition drafted September 7 by the PCCC. “He sold us out on the public option and is a weak Democrat who caves instead of fighting conservatives and corporate power.”
It’s not too late for Obama to turn his presidency around, reconnect with the supporters who propelled him to the White House and reclaim his ambitious legislative agenda. But to do so, he’ll need fewer Emanuels in the building. ARI BERMAN