Barack Obama's political magic is based on an ever-growing bag of tricks, relying on illusion, misdirection, and the media's willingness to believe. Behind the stage presence of openness, bipartisanship, sincerity, transparency, and geniality are tricks learned from the hardball politics of Chicago.
Every magician needs his stage assistants. Barack Obama has two key people helping to smooth his way: Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. Each knows plenty of tricks of his own.
Rahm Emanuel was chosen by the chosen one to be his Chief of Staff
-- a very astute pick indeed. Few realize that Emanuel was one of the chief fundraisers for the Democratic Party. He is an experienced operator, who not only knows how to raise millions of dollars, but on whom to bestow them. He earned his reputation as hard-nosed and effective magician at raising money the hard way in his hometown of Chicago.
Clearly, someone with Emanuel's skills can remind recalcitrant members of his own party (such as Blue Dog Democrats) that their future campaigns may just need the money that he and the President can raise faster than one can say Maurice Stans. Better to have the Rahmbo on your side than on the other guy's side.
Lyndon Johnson used his mastery of Texas money men to power his career and to ensure that his legislation passed. Rahm can use those same talents to conjure up the same power. He is a consiglieri and a bag man of sorts -- all perfectly legal, of course. No need to violate campaign finance laws when you reward your hedge fund supporters (who supported Obama so generously during the campaign) with taxpayer dollars. Just shake the money tree and the dollars will flow. Pay-to-play: one of the oldest tricks in the books and the unofficial motto of Chicago.
A message was sent when Rahm was installed in the White House. The next campaign was already launched -- and it would be a no holds barred race to the finish line. Again.
If that were not enough proof that Barack Obama is in permanent campaign mode, the man whose office is but a few yards away from the Oval Office might do the trick: David Axelrod. He was Barack Obama's campaign manager, whose skills also were honed in the battleground of Chicago politics. Axelrod was a master of setting up astroturf groups: ostensibly citizen's groups formed to promote this or that project. In reality, they were funded by corporate groups.
Proximity to power says it all about a man's standing in our nation's capital. How come David Axelrod was transformed into the Senior Adviser to President Obama -- showing up on television talk shows and meeting with foreign leaders, one of the go-to guys to present Obama's plans to the public? What happened to Paul Volcker and Larry Summer, and the other grand old and not so old men that lent gravitas to the administration during the campaign? Like props from a completed magic trick, they have been sent backstage.
Axelrod is The Man. He crafts plans and their rollout to maximize the popularity of Barack Obama -- the popularity that he plans to ride for a return to the White House in four years. Bill Clinton had his Dick Morris, George Bush had his Karl Rove, and Barack Obama has his David Axelrod. At least George Bush waited until his second term to bring Rove on board in an official capacity. Axelrod was placed next to the throne on Day One, of the First Year of the Age of Obama.
But the tricks take a dark turn when you dip below the surface. Things get ugly down there. A magician is stealth, and Barack Obama is very stealthy. He may be gutting the Defense Department but, if there are any weapons he would seek to emulate they would be stealth fighters and bombers. They do the most damage (see Senator Stealth, Stanley Kurtz's superb article about the legislative tricks Barack Obama used as a state senator).