Commentary Magazine


Topic: chief of staff in trouble

The Rahm Chronicles

The Washington Post runs another “It’s not Rahm Emanuel’s fault” piece, decrying Obama’s, and it seems David Axelrod’s, failure to heed the chief of staff’s advice. We’ve seen the drip, drip, drip of these stories already, making clear that the KSM trial was not Emanuel’s idea and that he has valiantly fought against the excesses of the Obami. (How this meshes with Emanuel’s own admonition that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” isn’t clear. Wasn’t Emanuel fighting for the “do it all fast” ultra-liberal agenda?) On KSM, we’re told:

Emanuel made his case to Obama, articulating the political dangers of a civilian trial to congressional Democrats. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. presented a counterargument rooted in principle, for civilian trials.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, supported Holder, the source said. The president agreed that letting the Justice Department take the lead was the right thing to do.

“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”

Now that sort of I-know-better-than-the-president spin is going to get a chief of staff in trouble. And indeed it’s apparently ruffling some feathers. (“But the Rahm-knows-better-than-the-president notion, increasingly spread by his allies and articulated in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank last month, is, regardless of its relation to reality, creating more tension for the chief of staff inside the White House and drawing more scrutiny from outside.”) But the fact remains that Emanuel and those close to him feel compelled to make clear to all who will listen that it’s not his fault. Honest.

Aside from the phalanx of Obama spinners who hoped for so much more from this president, the real fretters are congressional Democrats. The Post explains:

Another senior member of the House Democratic caucus put it more bluntly. “I don’t think the White House has listened to him enough,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss frustration with the White House. “There is this growing sense in the House that this White House is tone-deaf and doesn’t care about 2010, that it is sacrificing members for 2012 and that the president thinks he doesn’t need to get engaged, or that he thinks politics don’t matter and that he could care less about what is happening on the streets of our districts. That’s not Rahm.”

One early supporter of Obama, who has known Emanuel for years, did not give the chief of staff a pass. “The House members recruited by Rahm say to me, ‘He is supposed to know our needs; how come we are being cut off at the knees on so many issues?’ They don’t understand why Rahm is not being more aggressive.”

Implicit is the realization that Obama is seriously out to lunch on the implications of his agenda and the impact his presidency is having on his fellow Democrats. It’s all well and good to play the Washington version of Kremlinology, but in the end no set of advisers can counteract a president bound and determined to do foolish things or lacking in some essential executive skills. As frustrating as the Emanuel vs. Axelrod and Emanuel vs. Obama conflicts may be for them, the Democrats’ real beef is with the president. And unless he undergoes some serious self-evaluation and makes a dramatic course correction, their problems will only intensify. And after November, they will likely have far fewer colleagues with whom to commiserate.

The Washington Post runs another “It’s not Rahm Emanuel’s fault” piece, decrying Obama’s, and it seems David Axelrod’s, failure to heed the chief of staff’s advice. We’ve seen the drip, drip, drip of these stories already, making clear that the KSM trial was not Emanuel’s idea and that he has valiantly fought against the excesses of the Obami. (How this meshes with Emanuel’s own admonition that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” isn’t clear. Wasn’t Emanuel fighting for the “do it all fast” ultra-liberal agenda?) On KSM, we’re told:

Emanuel made his case to Obama, articulating the political dangers of a civilian trial to congressional Democrats. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. presented a counterargument rooted in principle, for civilian trials.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, supported Holder, the source said. The president agreed that letting the Justice Department take the lead was the right thing to do.

“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”

Now that sort of I-know-better-than-the-president spin is going to get a chief of staff in trouble. And indeed it’s apparently ruffling some feathers. (“But the Rahm-knows-better-than-the-president notion, increasingly spread by his allies and articulated in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank last month, is, regardless of its relation to reality, creating more tension for the chief of staff inside the White House and drawing more scrutiny from outside.”) But the fact remains that Emanuel and those close to him feel compelled to make clear to all who will listen that it’s not his fault. Honest.

Aside from the phalanx of Obama spinners who hoped for so much more from this president, the real fretters are congressional Democrats. The Post explains:

Another senior member of the House Democratic caucus put it more bluntly. “I don’t think the White House has listened to him enough,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss frustration with the White House. “There is this growing sense in the House that this White House is tone-deaf and doesn’t care about 2010, that it is sacrificing members for 2012 and that the president thinks he doesn’t need to get engaged, or that he thinks politics don’t matter and that he could care less about what is happening on the streets of our districts. That’s not Rahm.”

One early supporter of Obama, who has known Emanuel for years, did not give the chief of staff a pass. “The House members recruited by Rahm say to me, ‘He is supposed to know our needs; how come we are being cut off at the knees on so many issues?’ They don’t understand why Rahm is not being more aggressive.”

Implicit is the realization that Obama is seriously out to lunch on the implications of his agenda and the impact his presidency is having on his fellow Democrats. It’s all well and good to play the Washington version of Kremlinology, but in the end no set of advisers can counteract a president bound and determined to do foolish things or lacking in some essential executive skills. As frustrating as the Emanuel vs. Axelrod and Emanuel vs. Obama conflicts may be for them, the Democrats’ real beef is with the president. And unless he undergoes some serious self-evaluation and makes a dramatic course correction, their problems will only intensify. And after November, they will likely have far fewer colleagues with whom to commiserate.

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