If the Czar Only Knew

Democrats are loath to say outright what a political disaster Obama has been for their party. So they have seized upon his right-hand man:

Democrats in Congress are holding White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel accountable for his part in the collapse of healthcare reform.The emerging consensus among critics in both chambers is that Emanuel’s lack of Senate experience slowed President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

He had to apologize because some liberal in that meeting ratted him out, counting on the political-correctness industry to storm into action. (Little did those liberals know that their arch-villainess of the Right would help them by calling for Emanuel’s firing.) The Democrats’ criticisms are admittedly contradictory. Liberals think Emanuel sold them out on the public option and health care, while Senate insiders think he blew it by playing to the Left. (“‘Their plan was to keep all the Democrats together and work like hell to get Snowe and Collins. The Senate doesn’t work that way. You need a radius of 10 to 12 from the other side if you’re going to have a shot.'”)

That’s not to say that Emanuel doesn’t deserve criticism. He is the chief of staff in an administration sinking below the waterline. He reportedly mucked around in the Afghan war-strategy process, prolonging it and causing the president to look irresolute and weak. He has been front and center in the “bully Israel” approach to the Middle East, which ranks up there with the most lame-brained ideas of this administration. And he has set a tone of crass partisanship, arrogance, and plain mean-spiritedness that has not served the administration well.

But let’s face it: the president is thrilled with him. If David Brooks has it right, it’s a lovefest over at the White House. Everyone is on the same page, and nary a word of internal dissention is heard. (“Yet the atmosphere in the White House appears surprisingly tranquil. Emanuel is serving as a lighting rod for the president but remains crisply confident in his role as chief of staff.”) But that bit of Obama insidery might not be all that helpful in the long run. It undermines the theory — and the hope of Democrats — that the extreme policy, the tone deafness, and the ham-handedness are not Obama’s doing or his fault. You see, there’s little room for Obama to maneuver, shift the blame to errant aides, and maintain his deity-like status if all of this left-wing policy and the political faux pas festival stem from Obama’s policy vision and reflect his political instincts. Oops. Maybe not the most helpful column, after all.

Let’s get real. An administration reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the president. He sets the tone and controls policy. If Democrats and the country at large are unhappy with the results, there is only one person responsible. And it’s not Rahm Emanuel.