Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s announcement that he will not seek a seventh term has prompted widespread speculation that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will run as Daley’s successor. "I’d be shocked if he doesn’t run," a senior administration official told the Washington Post.
The sooner Rahm leaves Washington, the better for Barack Obama. His White House is desperately in need of a serious shakeup, especially with Democrats facing a tidal wave of losses in the midterms. Replacing Rahm is the best place to start.
I’ll never quite understand why a transformational candidate who ran under the banner of a new style of politics chose the ultimate old-school inside operator to control his administration. Rahm isn’t solely to blame for diluting Obama’s unique outsider brand, but he’s a major reason why. After all, in the Clinton White House and in Congress, Rahm was often at odds with the very grassroots activists who powered Obama’s presidential campaign. As head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in ‘06, he famously clashed with party chair Howard Dean and recruited conservative Blue Dog candidates at the expense of legitimate progressive challengers. Rahm 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.” He later apologized to Sarah Palin but not to the Democratic activists he insulted.
Rahm’s alleged biggest asset—his ties to Capitol Hill and intricate knowledge of Beltway politics—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 has done 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 other words, if you sell your soul, you better get something good for it in return. Instead, Obama is facing the prospect of a Republican Congress and an uphill re-election bid. No wonder Rahm is so eager to get out of town.
In a series of articles last spring, Emanuel or those close to him sought to blame others in the Obama White House for the president’s problems. That was cowardly, irresponsible and beside the point. If Emanuel really is the most powerful chief of staff in modern history, then obviously he deserves his share of the blame when things don’t go according to plan. Especially since he devised the plan.
In just a few years, Rahm’s gone from the architect of the Democratic takeover of the House to a major political liability. So what, exactly, qualifies him to run America’s third largest city? That’s what the Progressive Campaign Change Committee and other critics of Emanuel 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 yesterday 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, attack the gridlock in Washington and reclaim his ambitious legislative agenda. But to do so, he’ll need fewer Rahms in the building.
Ari Berman’s new book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, will be published in October by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.