Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff stint worse than we thought

with 5 comments

For those who are unemployed who finally are getting a job interview, they have a new dread: how they will do in the job interview itself.

The employers asks good directive  questions, such as “Tell us about your last job.”

Assuming Rahm Emanuel is running for mayor of Chicago — hasn’t Chicago suffered from having an egomaniac, can’t tell him anything wrong mayor long enough — Emanuel better hope no one asks him about his previous job.

Now, regular readers at this point would likely say, “Okay, you don’t like Emanuel. You didn’t like him as chief of staff.”

Guilty as charged. But now we have specifics, at least if this Chicago Tribune analysis is correct. And the analysis seems terribly consistent with what we have perceived Emanuel to be as chief of staff:

When economic advisors pressed for a stimulus package that would exceed $1 trillion, Emanuel warned that the price tag would create a kind of sticker shock. His argument prevailed and the stimulus was held to $787 billion.

This might not have been so bad if we actually got $787 billion in spending, but we didn’t even get this. About half of that money went to spending, the rest to tax cuts. If the fear was that opponents would seize on the total, then Obama should have gone for more, since the criticism came anyway. And even as a percentage of the overall bill, there still would have been over $100 billion more in spending without Emanuel’s meddling.

Soon after Obama took office, some White House aides wanted him to veto a $410-billion spending bill loaded with earmarks — special projects submitted by lawmakers. A veto would show Obama was serious about changing the political culture, they said.

Emanuel advised the president to sign the bill while pursuing a longer-term policy of revamping the earmark system. That’s what Obama did.

Those on the right and left who complain that Obama isn’t doing enough would have been impressed with a veto. Having Obama force Congress to come up with a better bill would have looked good to the masses.

A pragmatist, he fretted about overloading the political system with unrealistic ambitions. Sometimes Obama listened; sometimes he didn’t. Obama pursued healthcare reform over Emanuel’s private objections, Emanuel has said.

You can legitimately debate over whether health care reform should have gone first. This falls under heavy pragmatism, which is an optional choice. Of course, Congress would have been less likely to pass health care reform after 2011, since the party in the White House usually loses seats.

Obama’s best chance would have been to show that things were different. Emanuel tried really hard not to let that happen.

When Emanuel was named chief of staff, I did cheer the news. True, a lot of that came from the fact that as someone who lived in his district, I was thrilled to get rid of him as a Congressman.

But to be fair, Emanuel had three things going for him: experience in the White House, a tough demeanor, and given his background in Congress, someone who could reach across the aisle.

Working in the Clinton White House may have taught him pragmatism, which didn’t really help Clinton either. But in even worse economic times than Clinton inherited in 1993, Obama’s pragmatism proved more costly.

Despite reports of excessive profanity, his tough demeanor didn’t translate into extra votes or ambitious legislation.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is quoted in the analysis as saying Emanuel worked behind the scenes to get GOP votes.

“He had some rough edges, but he also reached out to the Republican side many times with great success and most of the time unheralded,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). “People didn’t know what he was doing behind the scenes.”

Emanuel can’t be blamed for the lack of GOP support, as the Republicans banded together well to deny Obama any help. But someone with his background should have a lot better results than he got in the last two years.

Many job seekers are probably applying for jobs that might not be exactly what they were doing. If Emanuel runs for mayor of Chicago, he might argue that the skills for chief of staff might not translate to mayor.

But Emanuel’s chances would help if he could point to results as chief of staff for the Obama Administration. And it would help the Obama Administration if Emanuel’s replacement were a lot less pragmatic.

At least the citizens of Chicago have a few months to decide whether Emanuel will get the job. And they will get to vote to see if they want Emanuel to be in charge of the city.


5 Responses

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    October 20, 2010 at 10:21 am

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    James D.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm

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    Natasha Trider

    October 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

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    November 1, 2010 at 10:46 am

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    Glynda Mellage

    January 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm

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