Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chief of Steak Knives

Name: Rahm Emanuel

Occupation: Congressman, U.S. House of Representatives - Illinois District 5

Position in Obama Administration: Chief of Staff

Hobbies: Mailing dead fish to pollsters, pretend-stabbing dissenters, scrapbooking.

Rahm Emanuel only uses steak knives this long when he carves up adversaries.

Profile and Analysis: And we all thought Sarah Palin would be the last high-profile politician we'd have to hear described as a "pitbull" this year. Sorry folks! Enter Rahmbo.

Emanuel worked as a senior fundraiser for Clinton's '92 presidential campaign where he bundled a then-enormous sum of $72 million - or, Obama's one day fundraising total on a bad day - for the plucky Arkansas governor. Ah, what 70 million used to buy you. Emanuel inspired the West Wing character Josh Lyman and is said to have mailed a dead fish to a campaign pollster that got on his bad side. He spent a few years making around $10 million working for Wasserstein Perella & Co./ Dresdner Kleinwort. In 2002 he ran for Ron Blagojevich's house seat that represented Chicago's northside while Blagojevich ran, succesfully, for governor. After six years in the House of Representatives a reportedly "mellower" Rahm found himself forced to choose between a straight shot to Speaker of the House, or a position as Barack's Praetorian Guard, Chief of Staff. Today, he announced he's going with Chief of Staff.

As Rahm said to Tony Blair before a press conference at the outset of the Monica Lewinsky scandal: "This is important. Don't fuck it up."


Politically, I like Emanuel as the blunt object to Obama's soft touch. John Boehner's pants looked a little damp in the crotch when he said, today, "This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center." Aww, John, you used to be such a tough guy! Even Boehner's afraid of Rahmbo.

John's right, though, that Rahm would not be a bipartisan man's first choice. But, as Paul Krugman noted in his column the other day, "Why will the G.O.P. become more, not less, extreme? For one thing, projections suggest that this election will drive many of the remaining Republican moderates out of Congress, while leaving the hard right in place."

The people left in the House and Senate on the Republican side aren't going to be much interested in being bipartisan in any functional way, so appointing someone tough like Emanuel makes sense. So we're good on that front; Emanuel will be effective and one hopes Barack is accurate in saying Emanuel has "mellowed out" at least enough that Obama maintains his "no drama" policy. But I'm sure we'll get some good temper tantrums.

The front on which I'm uncertain about Emanuel is his AIPAC relationship. He's strongly pro-Israel and announced his endorsement of Obama shortly after Obama's AIPAC speech in June. After Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq, denounced Israel's bombing of Lebanon in the 2006 war as an act of "aggression," Emanuel called on the prime minister to cancel his scheduled speech before Congress. Though Emanuel has rightly criticized some of the more idiotic neocon approaches to Israel, his strong relationship with AIPAC makes me uneasy. Obama is independent, not one easily swayed, and I understand the political appeal of Emanuel. But keep an eye on the AIPAC situation.

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