Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama, and the Permanent Campaign.

Published today in Fox Forum:

So President-elect Obama has asked Cong. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to be his White House chief of staff. I am a little surprised that Emanuel would consider taking the job; he is giving up, at age 49, a promising long career in the House of Representatives—to become an aide to someone else. Yes, he will be part of history in the 44th President’s White House, but he would have been part of history in the 111th Congress, and thereafter.

But I am not surprised that Obama offered him the job. Obama, the man with the awkward middle name, could use some reinforcement among Jews, Christian Zionists, and other friends of Israel. At the tail end of the campaign, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) was caught on camera telling a synagogue in Florida that Obama “didn’t have the political courage” to walk out of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Afrocentric church. Indeed, the close scrutiny of Obama’s life and times—including the tantalizing details about life with a Kenyan Muslim father and an Indonesian Muslim step-father—has only just begun. Muckrakers and biographers and kiss-and-tellers (some peddling truth and perhaps more peddling falsehood) will come from all corners of the earth. The White House rapid-responders will have to be ready.

And then, of course, Obama plans some profound shifts in American policy toward the Mideast and the Muslim world. The 44th President will need all the Jewish help he can get.

Yet there will be some pushback on the Emanuel choice from Obama’s own base—because Emanuel is not a “movement” leftist. Indeed, Steve Clemons, the well-known DC blogger, headlined his posting “Movement Left has Stroke: Rahm Emanuel Accepts Obama's Chief of Staff Offer.” Clemons, who seemed to know sooner than the rest of us that Emanuel had, in fact, taken the job, observed, “Many in the movement left are having a heart attack that the first major move of President-elect Barack Obama is the appointment of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff.” Emanuel is a liberal, but he is not a Moveon/Acorn-type leftist. And that will go down hard with Moveon-ers and Acorn-ers.

So what would Emanuel be like in the White House? This inheritor of Chicago political tradition? On Thursday, The Politico referred to Emanuel’s “take-no-prisoners style.” Indeed, one thinks back to the 1987 film “The Untouchables,” in which would-be gang-buster Eliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) is told by an Irish cop (played by Sean Connery), “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!” Obviously Emanuel in the White House wouldn’t rub anyone out, but it’s a safe bet that Emanuel would play the hardest of hardball.

Meanwhile—and this is all part of the plan—President Obama can sail above it all, speaking in lofty tones to the adoring multitudes, preserving his own image from the chips and cracks that come from down-‘n’-dirty politicking. That is, Obama can take the high road, and Emanuel can take, well, the not-so-high road.

But this much is for sure. Obama has big plans for his presidency. The veteran street organizer knows tough tactics, even if he himself no longer wishes to engage in them. That’s for others now.

A veteran Democrat told me on Wednesday that the Obama campaign has $160 million—that's right, $160 million—left over from his campaign. After the campaign pays off its outstanding debts, covers legal and accounting fees, etc., it will still easily have $100 million left. To do what with? Well, one can assume that Obama means it when he says, as he has said several times, that he will look for ways to keep his political organization going, even after the election, presumably to advance his legislative agenda—and, presumably also, to get going on his 2012 re-election campaign.

In addition, Obama has 3.6 million donors on file, as well as 40 million people who are considered Obama volunteers. Obama can get things done with those sorts of numbers and quantities. And Emanuel will be at his right hand.

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