The word is that Rahm Emanuel will announce today his intention to leave the position of White House Chief of Staff in order to begin a campaign to become the next mayor of Chicago. As a former Democrat, I don’t worry about what will become of the White House without Emanuel. I say good riddance.
To the extent that Rahm Emanuel has been associated with Barack Obama, it’s been as a bad influence. Emanuel has been a political machinist, interested in building a more powerful machine regardless of the purpose to which that machine has been applied.
In fact, Democrats’ troubles over the last year and a half can be directly traced to Rahm Emanuel and his ilk within the Democratic Party. Seeking to get the Democrats back in control of the White House and the Congress, they chose the quick and easy route instead of the route that could lead to a lasting position of strength.
What Rahm Emanuel did not work to develop ways to persuade Americans to accept a more liberal frame of mind. Instead, Emanuel worked as the leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to recruit right wing Democrats to run for the House of Representatives. Even when local Democrats had strong liberal candidates for Congress, Emanuel used his power to knock those candidates out of the way, to be replaced by his personal, Republican-lite picks.
Emanuel changed the Democratic Party to make it more like the Republican Party. What was the point of that? It enabled Democratic politicians, including Emanuel himself, to amass power for themselves, but it weakened the commitment to the very values that motivated the Democratic Party rank and file in the first place.
Many of Emanuel’s recruits would go on to become members of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives. Last year, it was those same Democrats who protested and bluffed and blocked Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation, providing enough time for the Republican-created Tea Party summer of protest to take place, which in turn led to the substantial weakening of the bill. It was Emanuel’s Democrats in Congress who delayed and then voted against climate legislation in the House, ruining its chances for being sent to the White House. It is those same Democrats who Rahm Emanuel placed in Congress that are now protesting that George W. Bush’s temporary tax cuts for the richest one percent of Americans must be made permanent.
Without Emanuel’s Democrats in Congress, Barack Obama could have maintained the political momentum he had in early 2009. Without Rahm Emanuel’s legacy, Obama might not have been a terrific President, but he wouldn’t have turned out to be the thorough disappointment he is today, and Democratic voters would feel a great deal more enthusiasm for this year’s elections.
Rahm Emanuel’s politics brought the Democratic Party surging forward in 2006 and 2008, but that burst of energy was like what comes after a snort of cocaine. It couldn’t be sustained, because it wasn’t based on a genuine political shift. Emanuel’s Democrats turned to attack the same political body that they had invigorated, and so the crash after the high began.
So now, the pusher of Blue Dog politics wants to sell his powders in Chicago. Perhaps this move will give Barack Obama a chance to clean out his system before the 2012 elections. The trouble is that, thanks to players like Rahm Emanuel, Obama has lost his credibility as a leader who is dedicated to core principles. Once the mantle of idealism is lost, it’s very difficult to find and wear it in a plausible manner again.