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Contentions

Re: The New Old Politics

Paul Mirengoff, who writes for the terrific Powerline blog, links to my post on the selection of Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff. Paul is encouraged by the appointment of Emanuel because his “combination of ability to knock heads and knowledge of Congress strikes me as an excellent combination.” As for Emanuel’s reputation as a fierce and even ruthless partisan, Paul writes, “Perhaps because I never remotely took Obama’s post-partisan rhetoric seriously, I see the matter differently.”

Just to clarify: as I stated in my post, the appointment will “strike a discordant note, at least in one respect.” And that one respect is that Obama promised to usher in a new era of politics that would be unifying, civil, high-minded, and a break from the past.

This claim wasn’t incidental to the Obama candidacy–it was absolutely central, especially when running against Hillary Clinton. And Obama has presented himself as a different breed of politician, one who would put an end to cynicism and bind up our national wounds. That is part of what has created the cult of personality around Obama.

It may be that the Emanuel appointment is meritorious on other grounds. He is certainly bright and competent, and he was thought to be among the “third way” forces in the Clinton White House (compared to more orthodox liberals like George Stephanopoulos). That is something about which I am (modestly) encouraged.

But presumably words and promises mean something, and Obama should be held to the standards he set. He is the one who said he would essentially act as a balm for our national politics and tear down partisan dividing walls. To jettison breezily a core commitment when making one of your earliest appointments is something worth noting. And, in my estimation, it is something to be concerned about.


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