11.23.2008

RAHM EMANUEL'S POLITICAL PIROUETTES

Topic(s): 2008 Election | Comments Off on RAHM EMANUEL'S POLITICAL PIROUETTES

Given the financial upheavals and the problems in the world at-large, like the siege of Gaza, it may seem a bit stupid to keep posting articles about Rahm Emanuel, but this one was too funny to pass up. It also points out that he was one of three principals lobbyists for the NAFTA Free-trade agreement. -rg
RAHM EMANUEL’S POLITICAL PIROUETTES
by John R. MacArthur
The Providence Journal
November 19, 2008
God help me, but I had to laugh when I heard the news that Barack Obama
had named Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. What else could
I do? Without even so much as a symbolic gesture in support of reform,
the great agent of “change” immediately selected as his chief political
enforcer a figure who epitomizes the Washington consensus of the past
two decades — pro-“free trade,” pro-Iraq invasion/occupation and,
perhaps most importantly, pro-pork barrel.
Which isn’t to say that Emanuel does not possess great talents
essential to the success of an Obama administration. It just depends
on how you define success. If Emanuel’s legendary aggressiveness were
put to work in the service of “good government,” he might, indeed, do
wonderful things. But I somehow doubt that’s what Obama has in mind for
his friend from Chicago as he embarks on his 2012 re-election campaign.
Like Obama, Rahm Emanuel was launched in politics by the Daley machine,
but he really made his name in the Clinton administration as one of
three principal White House lobbyists for the North American Free
Trade Agreement, in 1993.
Working alongside Mayor Richard M. Daley’s brother, William, and
then-U.S.
Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, Emanuel developed a reputation
for having “a personality that killed plants on contact,” in the
words of Margarita Roque, a former House staffer.
I can confirm Roque’s assessment, since in my own interviews with
Emanuel, he outdid himself in ferocious candor. Asked to describe
the effectiveness and reliability of his pro-NAFTA allies at the
Business Roundtable, Emanuel was effusive in his praise of Allied
Signal Chairman Larry Bossidy and a few others at Boeing and IBM. But
as for “the rest of business — not worth a bucket of warm spit.”
Ordinarily, I might appreciate such a remark, but Emanuel was only
expressing a certain type of politician’s contempt for anyone who
is not a politician or their surrogate — for people insufficiently
ruthless to “get the job done,” as Obama puts it. That Emanuel dared
to say this during his brief tenure as an investment banker only
accentuates his sense of superiority over the mere mortals who live
outside the charmed triangle of Capitol Hill/K Street/Democratic
Party power.
To be sure, a President Obama needs a henchman — but it’s important
to know to what end. Like H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s chief
of staff, Emanuel will no doubt involve himself in many pressing
matters of state, from maintaining the status quo in the Mideast to
deciding which campaign contributor gets to be ambassador to Sri Lanka.
But in RahmObama world, it’s the political tasks that always come
first, foremost among them rewarding your friends and punishing
your enemies. At the top of a very urgent list of priorities will be
thanking Mayor Daley for his early endorsement of Obama during the
primaries — preferably with a goody guaranteed to create a lot
of patronage jobs, such as bringing the 2016 Olympic games to the
Windy City.
As a congressman and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Emanuel
has reached deep into the pork barrel, and last year he defended an
“earmark” that permitted the rebuilding of a bridge in his district
“that not only was rated as deficient but also was identified by the
Department of Homeland Security as a major evacuation route in case of
a terrorist attack on Chicago.” Posing a largely rhetorical question,
Emanuel wrote: “Does that make me an ‘earmark thug’ or a congressman
who took care of a critical need in his district?”
It’s unclear what would motivate al-Qaida to target Illinois’s 5th
Congressional District — why bother hitting Wrigley Field and
the Cubs when they’re already doomed? — but what is clear is that
Emanuel knows how to game the system. What’s more, like his tutor,
Mayor Daley, he understands the political value of “terrorism” to
accomplish important civic improvements.
In 2003, Daley unilaterally tore up the runway of Chicago’s lakefront
airport, Meigs Field, in the middle of the night, so he could reclaim
the land for a park. As justification, the mayor cited the threat
of terrorist attack (from the air), even though neither Secretary
of Homeland Security Tom Ridge or his agency were ever consulted and
Ridge declared himself “disappointed” by the Meigs shutdown.
With all this, I can’t deny feeling a kind of admiration for
Emanuel. All through the 2008 campaign, he performed a balancing act
— never publicly supporting Obama until Hillary Clinton dropped out
— worthy of a professional ballet dancer. In fact, Emanuel was a
ballet student when he was growing up in suburban Chicago, good enough
to be offered a scholarship by the Joffrey Ballet. As it happens,
I spent a lot of time as a kid at the studio where he trained, the
Evanston School of Ballet, watching my sister, a future professional,
take class.
It would be easy to suggest that Emanuel’s tough-guy behavior is a
case of overcompensation for having spent so much of his young life in
what some might view as a “feminine” milieu. I don’t see it that way,
even though I resisted occasional recruiting attempts by the school’s
co-founder, Phyllis Wills, for the usual “that’s too sissy” reason.
Anybody familiar with the ballet world knows that the small20number
of dancers who make a paying career of it are the equivalent of
professional athletes — every bit as accomplished as the best
football, basketball and track stars — and not sissies at all. In
ballet, the self-discipline and physical training required to “get
the job done” are not for weaklings.
Thus, Obama may well have done himself a favor by picking a former
ballet man to run the White House.
We can only hope that if he does his grands battements in the Oval
Office, he doesn’t accidentally kick over the red phone and start
a war.
John R. MacArthur, a monthly contributor, is publisher of Harper’s
Magazine.