BuzzFlash: You Can't Take a Knife to a Gun Fight.
Rahm Emanuel: You Can't Take a Knife to a Gun Fight. Live from Chicago, It's BuzzFlash.com!
MARK KARLIN'S EDITOR'S BLOG: Another BuzzFlash Perspective on Our Homestate Illinois Politics.
As the oldest and largest news and commentary progressive website (since May of 2000) between the coasts -- and headquartered in Chicago -- our readers know that we have a lot of insights into the new Obama administration, especially since he appears headed toward taking a lot of our local Democratic Party talent with him.
So it's only natural that we have a take on Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff. We have interacted with him as activists and journalists -- just as we have with most Democratic politicians in Illinois.
First of all, a minor personal anecdote. When Rahm was running in a hotly contested Democratic Primary for the 5th Congressional District in Illinois, I was on his call list for fund raising -- and as just about everyone knows, Rahm is a fabled fund raiser. In fact, his prowess at getting people to give large sums of money to Dem politicians like Mayor Daley and Bill Clinton is what propelled him to prominence.
Anyway, it's about 5 in the afternoon in 2002 and I get a call, and it's Rahm. He gives me a hurried spiel about how he's running in the primary for the seat in the 5th and he needs a large war chest (I actually favored the woman he was running against, Nancy Kaszak, by the way), and would I contribute some ungodly sum of money. Internally, I was laughing because it was like getting the chance to hear a famed operator in action. Rahm lavished praise on me for what I had done for gun control (something his former boss, Bill Clinton, had also publicly thanked me for) and so forth. Sensing an opportunity for horse trading (even though I didn't and don't have anything more than a few dollars to donate to any politician), I offered to donate to his campaign (although he didn't realize we were talking maybe $25 or so -- he would have hung up if he knew), if he would secure me an interview with Bill Clinton for BuzzFlash.
Emanuel asked me how to spell out the name of BuzzFlash, which I did, and made another pitch for a donation to his primary campaign. He said he would look at the website and get back to me. He never did.
I suppose our ongoing bashing of the Democratic Leadership Council and centrist Democrats didn't endear us to Rahm. Although he is known for a legendary moment during the Clinton campaign when he vowed to get back at political enemies by stabbing a knife into a cut of steak, Emanuel's "take no prisoners" approach is on behalf of a decidedly limited frame of a Democratic Party whose playing field is defined by the Republicans.
Emanuel is a brilliant "enforcer," but narrow-minded when it comes to the brilliant re-framing that Barack Obama has been making his trademark. Rahm is definitely not the vision guy. He's a tactical field commander, but not a four-star general.
Like most progressives, BuzzFlash sided with the 50-state strategy of Howard Dean in 2006, which Emanuel and Chuck Schumer did everything they could to undercut. We remember reporting at the time that Emanuel was barely on speaking terms with Dean because Rahm thought that the 50-state approach was unrealistic and a waste of time and financial resources.
Well, fast forward to 2008, and Howard Dean's vision -- as carried out on the presidential level by the campaign staff of Barack Obama -- was vindicated. The limited cautious political focus of Emanuel and Schumer would have been a disaster for the Obama campaign, and for the Senate gains in both the 2006 and 2008 cycle.
Ironically, although Emanuel will become the gatekeeper to the presidency, he was "officially" neutral in the Democratic presidential primary. He is a deeply loyal guy, and his heart was with Hillary Clinton, but he couldn't declare for her because all the Democratic elected officials of any importance in Illinois were backing Obama, including our senior Senator and Assistant Majority Leader, Dick Durbin (who was Obama's chief mentor and booster when he first announced). So Rahm kept an unusually low profile during the primaries, because he also knew Obama and needed to hedge his bets.
There's much more we will have to say about Rahm as the Obama administration unfolds. For instance, the Fifth Congressional District is the reconfigured seat of the legendary Chicago Pol Dan Rostenkowski (brought down by Newt Gingrich) and our current Governor Rod Blagojevich, whom I discussed yesterday.
Many progressives see Emanuel's appointment as an ominous sign that Obama is going to be the third Clinton Administration (since other Clinton insiders are rumored to be favored for positions in the administration).
But we are a bit more optimistic about it.
We don't think that Obama chose Emanuel for his DLC ideology. A chief of staff is the person who gets the job done on behalf of the president (and Biden is not going to be pulling the strings like a Cheney; power will be restored to the presidency in an Obama Administration), not the formulator of policy.
Given that context, Emanuel may very well prove an effective choice in dealing with a Congress that is too often tied up in knots by the Republicans. Remember that Emanuel will be carrying out Obama's policies, and Rahm won't be bringing a steak knife to the fights ahead; he'll be shooting a bazooka.
That may be unpalatable to a lot of progressives, but the last person you want dealing with the remainders of the rabid right wing is a Quaker (although, yes, we are great admirers of the Quaker outlook). You need some muscle to shake up Capitol Hill, someone to blow a few knee caps off.
Rahm Emanuel can do that, with glee and a glint in his eye.
Yes, you can look at Emanuel's appointment as a setback for progressive ideals, or you can look at it as an indication that Obama is prepared to do battle.
Personally, I'm hoping it's the latter.