The Transactional Rahm Emanuel
by Charles Lemos, Sun Feb 22, 2009 at 05:48:50 PM EST
In the Clinton White House, Emanuel's specialty was helping to pass legislation that required centrist coalitions, like NAFTA, a crime bill, and welfare reform. "He's a partisan in the sense that he's a strong Democrat, but he's not an ideological Democrat," Stanley Greenberg said. "He's not ideologically liberal. He comes out of Chicago politics, which is more transactional."
If you haven't read the Ryan Lizza profile of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in The New Yorker, you really should. It is an entertaining and informative read if a bit on the fawning side of the equation. However, be warned Mr. Emanuel may be all about the art of the deal, his is also the art of the profane and colorful language.
For example, here is Mr. Emanuel responding to criticism from Paul Krugman and other progressive voices that the fiscal stimulus was too spending light and too tax cut rich.
"They have never worked the legislative process," Emanuel said of critics like the Times columnist Paul Krugman, who argued that Obama's concessions to Senate Republicans--in particular, the tax cuts, which will do little to stimulate the economy--produced a package that wasn't large enough to respond to the magnitude of the recession. "How many bills has he passed?"
"Now, my view is that Krugman as an economist is not wrong. But in the art of the possible, of the deal, he is wrong. He couldn't get his legislation."
The stimulus bill was essentially held hostage to the whims of Collins, Snowe, and Specter, but if Al Franken, the apparent winner of the disputed Minnesota Senate race, had been seated in Washington, and if Ted Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, had been regularly available to vote, the White House would have needed only one Republican to pass the measure. "No disrespect to Paul Krugman," Emanuel went on, "but has he figured out how to seat the Minnesota senator?" (Franken's victory is the subject of an ongoing court challenge by his opponent, Norm Coleman, which the national Republican Party has been happy to help finance.) "Write a fucking column on how to seat the son of a bitch. I would be fascinated with that column. O.K.?" Emanuel stood up theatrically and gestured toward his seat with open palms. "Anytime they want, they can have it," he said of those who are critical of his legislative strategies. "I give them my chair."
It's not Paul Krugman's job nor mine to pass legislation. It is yours and progressives understand that we will win some battles and lose some with the Administration. But from our point of view, this is not the time to sacrifice neither our values or our beliefs on how to achieve long cherished goals. Frankly, the time to speak out is now especially if as Mr. Emanuel concedes that Krugman et al are correct on the economic merits.
It is our job to hold the Administration's feet to the fire and enact legislation consistent with the progressive agenda. Mr. Emanuel should also rest comfortably and realize that the progressive community and the blogosphere in particular is here to help not hinder and if at times we are being critical it is more because we believe that the time is right to restore fairness and equality of opportunity as social virtues.
In crisis, there is opportunity certainly but more than the expediency of the moment there is the necessity of doing what is right. We believe that the time to enact a broad progressive agenda is now. Our is not the pursuit of possible but the pursuit of a moral ideal, a society based on equal social justice for all.
And we are aware that getting some of the legislation passed will require compromise with the more moderate elements of the Republican Party but that doesn't mean that the progressive community shouldn't strive to see our beliefs enacted into legislation.