Rahm Emanuel’s Political Future

When I see all of the backstabbing, sniping, and trash-talking going on in the opinion pages among Democrats jockeying for power in the Biden Administration, I can only wonder in amazement at what they would have done if Biden had lost. I’ll get to another example later but my first example is this assessment of Rahm Emanuel by Ben Mathis-Lilley at Salon. Its opening conveys the meat of the piece:

Two weeks ago, rumors bubbled up on CNN that former Barack Obama chief of staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was being considered to lead Joe Biden’s Department of Transportation. Monday of last week, rumors bubbled up in Crain’s Chicago that Biden is considering Emanuel for the job of U.S. trade representative. Sunday night, rumors bubbled up at Axios that Biden is now “strongly considering” Emanuel for the DOT job. (Strongly!) Someone—maybe it’s Rahm Emanuel—thinks Rahm Emanuel should play a role in the next presidential administration.

Why? What would Emanuel contribute to the public good and to the Democratic Party in one of these jobs?

It continues with a mostly negative assessment of Emanuel’s performance with the Obama White House and as Chicago’s mayor, generally eliding over his years with the Clinton White House, with a private equity firm, and as a Congressional representative. It concludes:

In any event, the subsequent dozen-plus years of Emanuel’s career are marked not just by his advocacy of bad ideas, but by his efforts to talk other Democrats out of ideas that turned out to be good ones. His two years in the White House were the least politically successful of Obama’s tenure, which, accounts from the time suggest, is a matter of more than just correlation.

Emanuel, operating from a worldview formed during his time as an adviser to the endlessly triangulating Bill Clinton, believed that Obama should pursue relatively unambitious, “centrist” goals. The idea was to pressure Republicans into supporting the president’s initiatives, achieving frequent news cycle “wins” that conveyed to the public that their chief executive was always making their lives better in little ways. As Clinton’s popularity demonstrated, this is not an inherently flawed model of governance, at least from the perspective of public relations. But it proved unsuited to the scope of the challenges that Obama faced: the worst economy since the Great Depression, a mangled and corrupted health care system that he’d promised to fix, and a completely intransigent opposition party fueled by the resentful, conspiratorial concerns of the “Tea Party.”

or, said another way, he didn’t have much to do with the Democrats getting control of the House in 2006 and that the Democrats lost control of the Congress in 2010 because the Obama Administration wasn’t progressive enough. Uh-huh.

Let me offer my own assessment. Rahm Emanuel flitted from one sinecure to the next over a period of about 20 years. He made a fortune as what’s called a “Rolodex hire” at a private equity firm, i.e. hired for his contacts not his abilities. During his brief tenure in Congress he was the worst Congressman I’ve ever had, more interested in fund-raising and strategizing than in the job itself. After his stint as President Obama’s Chief-of-Staff, I think he mistakenly believed that being mayor of Chicago was another sinecure, a stepping stone on the way to even higher office (governor? president?). He was wrong. I think he had a clear vision for Chicago. He wanted it to be like Seattle, San Francisco, New York, or Boston and, consequently, emphasized amenities for the “Creative Class”. That reflected an utter misunderstanding of those cities, Chicago, or the job of mayor. But I think that his views and attitude are sadly typical of far too many Democrats these days. As evidence I would submit Bill DeBlasio, Andrew Cuomo, Gavin Newsom, and Illinois’s own governor, J. B. Pritzker.

I don’t know whether Rahm Emanuel would be an asset or a handicap to the Biden White House. It depends on the direction it takes and, by all signs at present, it will not be nearly as progressive as Mr. Mattis-Lilley would like.

I do have some questions. Mayor Emanuel has two brothers. One is a Hollywood agent (what did he know about Harvey Weinstein and when did he know it) and the other a physician who has recently been appointed as a health care advisor to Joe Biden. To me they all appear to be people who have benefited by their contacts rather than their accomplishments. If Rahm Emanuel is unacceptable, why is Zeke Emanuel a suitable advisor on health care policy?

3 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    You’d know better than me, but my impression of Rahm is that he is an acerbic asshole in the flesh. That seemed to be the way he operated as Clinton’s CoS and he was known (at least from what I can remember) for his curse-laden outbursts and belittling subordinates.

    Assuming that’s true and he hasn’t changed, Rahm’s problems may be more fundamental. Is that the kind of guy that Biden wants in his administration? Can whatever pluses he can bring to the table overcome his personality deficit? I’m doubtful.

  • I’ve met him in person. My take is that he’s a little guy (both short and slight) with a chip on his shoulder, who uses coarse language to prove how tough he is. I don’t believe he’s actually that tough. I think it’s a pose.

    Speaking coarsely is no barrier to being mayor of Chicago but you do need to be able to deliver. I think that’s his problem—all hat, no cattle.

    And don’t alienate the wrong people. IMO he needlessly created an adversarial relationship with the head of the CTU who then turned around and stuck it to him with the first teacher’s strike in Chicago in decades.

  • steve Link

    In the case of Zeke he has the training and the experience for that position. He has been in academic medicine for a long time, but he has also practiced and not just published. A plus in my book. That said he has published a ton and what he writes gets cited a lot. IIRC at one point he was the most cited author in his area. He certainly started down that path before his brother became famous. My guess is that he would have been well respected and published in his area absent his brother. Dont know if he would have been appointed to public positions absent that influence, but think he would have been well qualified either way. On the downside he does write with nuance leaving him open to demagogues and idiots on the right.


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