Obama Names Rahm Emanuel His Chief of Staff. So What Does It Mean?

Clintonite and Congressman Rahm Emanuel has accepted Obama’s offer to be his chief of staff.

Like David Corn and Ezra Klein, I’m ambivalent about it. On the one hand, Emanuel hasn’t exactly been an ally of the liberal-progressive elements in the Democratic Party. On the other hand, he’s a tough, hard-nosed insider and aggressive partisan with White House experience. So what does his appointment mean? What does it signal with respect to the Obama presidency?

– Is Obama signalling that he prefers centrist Clintonism to progressivism, that he’ll govern from the center and twist arms as required?

– Is Obama signalling that he’ll be aggressively partisan with respect to Congress, that he’s tough and ready to do battle?

– Is he signalling anything at all?

Here’s how I put it on Wednesday: “I’m not sure this signifies much. It’s too early to conclude that Obama will govern from the ‘center,’ or that he will align himself with the less progressive side of the party. What is essential is that Obama have a chief of staff in whom he has full confidence and can place his full trust. Emanuel, in that regard, may be right for the job.”

In other words, this is about the very close relationship that a president has with his chief of staff. The president must like and trust his chief of staff. That was certainly the case with Bush and Card and it also seems to be the case with Obama and Emanuel. Emanuel will likely be more of a hands-on, policy-oriented chief of staff, but, in the end, his job will be to run the West Wing and manage Obama’s internal and external relationships. If Obama thinks that Emanuel is the right man for the job, then so be it. End of discussion. I trust Obama’s judgment.

Then again, as Corn puts it: “Emanuel might make a good CoS for Obama. He knows how the White House operates. He knows how Congress works. He’s fierce; he’s smart. And Obama needs someone with experience and brains for this tough job. But should the White House of a president seeking change be run by a fellow who has done so well in the conventional and monied ways of Washington?”

For now, I’ll give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt.

         

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