Rahm Emanuel Is Tired and Everyone Hates HimS

Rahm Emanuel, the President's Chief of Staff, is either the only reasonable man in the White House or he is a compromise monster who is killing Hope. The New York Times Magazine says "both, kinda."

Well, Peter Baker's story on Rahm is actually more about how Rahm works very, very hard to be pragmatic, and he gets a lot of shit for it, and he is personally very, very tired, and kind of burned out. Rahm did not speak to Baker, of course.

Emanuel, who declined to talk to me on the record for this article, generally shrugs off most of the commentary, scorning armchair critics who haven't spent time in the White House or Congress actually trying to accomplish something.

But some other, unnamed guy—who seems to have some insight into Rham's thinking—sure had a lot to say!

"We've got to drive the ball at them," a senior White House official told me. "Driving the ball at them, making them pick between small government and no government, putting them in their responsibility-and-accountability box. You walk away? You're walking away from responsibility, and the public's angry at you. You participate? Your base hates you."
[...]
Emanuel is said to figure that Americans still mostly like Obama and think he is on their side. "He is not seen as part of the Washington problem," says a senior White House official. "In fact, if anything, he is seen as trying to clean it up, and the question about him is does he have the swat to get it done." Emanuel tells colleagues that the outsider brand represents Obama's most powerful asset, and protecting it is Emanuel's top political priority.

Curious. Axelrod and Gibbs spoke on the record... so those quotes must be from Malia.

So. Rahm was hoping to have a lot more victories now than he does, but lots of bad stuff happened, and sometimes the President listens to people other than Rahm. These facts ended up in the newspaper, which was embarrassing for Rahm, because he doesn't like to be portrayed as losing things and also it made his boss look bad. But the most important thing is that Rahm gets a lot of shit from both liberals and conservatives.

The crossfire underscores his contradictions - how can Emanuel be so intensely partisan without being all that liberal and so relentlessly pragmatic without being bipartisan?

There are not actually contradictions here. In the current political climate, partisanship barely relates to policy goals (that's how a moderate Republican health care bill fails to attract a single GOP vote and how the extension of unemployment benefits is filibustered before passing unanimously). And pragmatism doesn't mean "bipartisan," it means "accomplishing whatever is possible." And "bipartisanship" is not currently possible.

Both of those facts make up the liberal argument against Rahm Emanuel, actually: if he's going to have to be relentlessly partisan to get things done, which is obviously the case, why does the administration so often preemptively compromise to conservative elements that won't get on board no matter what substantive deals they're offered? You can negotiate with Lindsey Graham to trade KSM for Guantanamo, but Lindsey Graham won't deliver a single other Republican vote—if you want to close Gitmo you just have to close Gitmo yourself.

If the compromise is pointless, you're just watering down good policy (or worse, crafting bad policy) for no reason. Failed compromise attempts aren't helping with the optics. They're not helping in Congress. What they're doing is making the stimulus just a touch too small, ensuring a sluggish, jobless recovery and no political capital to pass a second one, because your opponents have decided to argue that the stimulus caused the recession. If you're going to be painted as a socialist for expanding Romneycare nationwide, and you're not going to win Olympia Snowe's vote even by giving her everything she wants, why not push for even better subsidies, a national exchange, and a public option? Because you're scared they'll call you a double socialist?

The story of Rahm demanding a 12-figure stimulus instead of a 13-figure stimulus is the sort of thing that makes observers like Dana Milbank wet in the pants, too. Milbank is a guy who does not even pretend to understand anything about policy, but he plays at being an expert in the cynical game of politics (which is bullshit, by the way—the fact that he claims to have voted for McCain in 2000, Hagel in 2004, and Bloomberg in 2008 just proves that he's a bog-standard educated Republican who is incredibly, embarrassingly susceptible to fawning media coverage).

To the Milbanks of the world, that preemptive compromise that the Administration's economists thought was a terrible idea was in fact a wonderful display of Seriousness. Standing up to the stupid liberals is the wisest and bravest thing a Democratic politician can do, among the centrist beltway pundit crowd. The only thing that could've made the Dana Milbanks of the world even happier, in fact, would've have been if Emanuel had convinced Obama to push for an even smaller stimulus that Lindsey Graham could've signed on to. Then, the jobless rate would probably be even worse a year out, but the President would have a fucking notch in his "bipartisan accomplishments" bedpost.

Don't get us wrong! We are all in favor of "fake bipartisanship," something a "senior White House official" claims Rahm is actually engaged in. That is good for optics, and gives your members some cover when they have to take a tough vote. Barack Obama does "fake bipartisanship" really well, to great effect. If Rahm is behind that, then good on him.

But "fake bipartisanship" is when you have a televised summit with Republicans, adopt their least objectionable suggestions, and shame them for not cooperating. "Fake bipartisanship" is not abandoning the policy goals of your administration because you are scared John McCain and Liz Cheney will criticize you on Meet the Press.

So. That's Rahm Emanuel. He'll probably be out in early 2011. Someday he wants to be mayor of Chicago, but he has to wait for all the Daleys to die.