A revealing article in yesterday’s New York Times about White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel offers a highly problematic view of the Illinois politician—and one, moreover, that he should be concerned about.
It’s one of those breathless pieces so besotted with its subject and his power that it makes Emanuel sound less like the chief staffer in the White House and more like the president than the president himself.
“The most powerful chief of staff in a quarter century,” the article calls Emanuel, insisting that he is the architect of the administration’s do-everything-all-at-once policy and that he is not only in charge in the West Wing but basically running the House of Representatives as well.
It is always dangerous for powers behind the throne to emerge and receive celebration as powers in their own right. Such talk either belittles and marginalizes the holder of the throne, or it can turn the power behind the throne into a scapegoat who will absorb the blows while Obama stays above the fray. And this article itself is an example of that. Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny write, “As the principal author of Mr. Obama’s do-everything-at-once strategy, he stands to become a figure of consequence in his own right if the administration stabilizes the economy and financial markets, overhauls the health care system and winds down one war while successfully prosecuting another. If things do not go well—and right now Mr. Obama’s political popularity is declining, his health care legislation is under conservative assault, the budget deficit is at an eye-popping level and Afghanistan remains volatile—it is Mr. Emanuel whose job will be on the line before Mr. Obama’s.”
But the most telling detail comes at the end, when Baker and Zeleny reveal that the administration’s decision to get tough on Israel is, to some degree, Emanuel’s doing: “In national security, officials said Mr. Emanuel had been a player on issues central to the Obama presidency. . . . He has been a force behind the administration’s opposition to Israeli settlement expansion, drawing fire from some Israel supporters.”