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The Establishment Empire Strikes Back

by: Teddy Goodson

Sat Mar 06, 2010 at 16:32:37 PM EST

Some of us noticed about ten days ago a remarkable flowering of public offerings at the altar of Rahm Emanuel. It began, at least publicly, with an article by Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on 21 February, where he wrote
"Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter,"

that is, Milbank implied, from becoming a failed, one-term president.  The thrust of the article was that Obama had been bebopping off on his own naive and liberal path, ignoring the sage insider advice of Rahm the Enforcer, the only one in the administration who really understood How Things Work in Washington. Milbank gave every indication he was basing his expose on comments from the inner sanctum, private but high-level sources close to the top. Next, on February 28th, his anonymous source(s) advised Milbank that Obama "too often plays the 98-pound weakling; he gets sand kicked in his face and responds with moot-court zingers." Ouch.
Teddy Goodson :: The Establishment Empire Strikes Back
On 3 March, again in The Washington Post, Jason Horowitz specifically went about rehabilitating Emanuel: he is not The Enforcer, at least not the rough Chicago eat-'em-alive hit man we were led to believe. No, Rahm is
"....a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts."

The idea was that Obama should have pared down his to-do list, watered down what was left, re-ordered the priorities, and softened his approach overall. He tried to do too much too soon, and in the wrong order.  Democratic insiders are "blaming Obama and his closest campaign aides for not listening to Emanuel." This theme was now a part of Washington conversation, turning into Conventional Wisdom in short order.

Finally, this Thursday, 4 March, David Broder, of all people, questioned the theme in his column in The Post:

".... the president of the United States has been portrayed as a weakling and a screw-up who is wrecking his administration despite everything that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanel, can do to make things right."

Broder considers this theme to be fiction. He did acknowledge that such an drumbeat of criticism "sounded like the kind of orchestrated leaks that often precede a forced resignation." One problem: Obama the President is the one being dissed, and it is unlikely that Obama would be forced to resign while Emanuel the chief of staff remained---- it usually works the other way around. According to Broder, Emanuel accepted the job of chief of staff reluctantly, and is utterly loyal to the President, so he is not the source of all these "leaks."(Johnathan Capehart, also in The Post, agreed that Rahm had not been the source of the comments.)

Given that Obama's poll numbers have been savaged by the continuing bad economy, and that Republicans have seized the moment to blockade every one of Obama's initiatives, and given that Rahm really, really "likes to win" (something everyone agrees is true), Broder hypothesizes that Emanuel had expressed his frustration to close friends, and the friends chose to make strategic leaks to journalists in a frantic effort to exonerate their pal. By doing so, says Broder, they are actually undermining the president.  Milbank apparently repeats what these friends say, calling Obama "airy and idealistic," caving in to bullying from both Republicans and Democrats, leading Broder to say "I hope the mullahs in Iran don't believe this." So do I.

While I have no special contacts feeding me covert info (I observe from my perch 14 miles from the Capitol) the fact is, I see this whole brouhaha differently from Broder's view, which is that Rahm Emanuel's friends are protecting him by promoting these leaks. I think that what we have here is a massive effort by the Washington Establishment to whip Obama into line, maneuver him into going along with the dominant worldview and status quo supported by previous Presidents, whether Democratic or Republican, since the time of Reagan (except for the unfortunate Jimmy Carter, whom they hounded from office), and most especially supported by the Republican Party, reflecting powerful corporatist and Wall Street interests. Listen to the talking point phraseology employed, that Obama's first year "fell apart," he tried to do "too much," and that Obama is "remote and professorial" or "out of touch with middle America's reality."

It is taken for granted that trying to have Congress perform its constitutional function of actually legislating on its own is a sign of weakness, or that attempting to negotiate bipartisan solutions openly is a phony bit of street theatre, or that actually giving up bargaining chips to meet opponents half-way is caving in to bullying---- all this inadvertently betrays the Rovian playbook attitude which is now Conventional Wisdom. The caper of orchestrated "leaks" praising Rahm Emanuel over Barack Obama is, to me, just another calculated effort by the entrenched Establishment to control this rather balky and unpredictable chief executive. How dare he step out of line! That the tactic weakens the country against its enemies is of no importance compared to preservation of power by the selfish Establishment.

Revealingly, Harold Meyerson, in an op ed article printed in the midst of this Rahm-Barack tempest, wrote about "Fortress Wall Street" in The Washington Post on 3 March. According to Meyerson, despite the fact that the major Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs, were instrumental in causing our present economic troubles, serious and effective re-regulation is not occurring, and "most every Obama administration proposal to rein in the financial sector has hit a wall." Even the idea of a free-standing Consumer Financial Protection Agency has been gutted, and if any such watered down agency even survives and is passed, it will be placed under the Federal Reserve, which is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Regulate those toxic derivatives? Forget that, most of those timebombs have been exempted from being listed on any exchange by a combination of all Republican legislators plus a few "center-right" Democrats simply because the six big investment banks wanted the exemption.

As Meyerson says,

"Over the past two years, no group has received more government support, or has more rigidly opposed government regulation, than the banks. Compared to Wall Street, the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries are pushovers."

If you put all of these together (Wall Street, pharma, and health insurance) you have an unbeatable combination of dominant corporotists. I think these are the ones bullying Obama, trying to convince him he should be afraid, very afraid---- of going against their wishes.
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I see it
differently from you :) You say:

I see this whole brouhaha differently from Broder's view, which is that Rahm Emanuel's friends are protecting him by promoting these leaks. I think that what we have here is a massive effort by the Washington Establishment to whip Obama into line,[...]

Me, I think that Broder might, actually, be fairly close (though still no cigar) to an ecplanation. Another excerpt from  your article:

Broder considers this theme to be fiction. He did acknowledge that such an drumbeat of criticism "sounded like the kind of orchestrated leaks that often precede a forced resignation." One problem: Obama the President is the one being dissed,[...]

What if it's the forced resignation of Emanuel, rather than Obama, that's in the air? What if all this preemptive defense of Emanuel is double bluff, orchestrated by Emanuel himself and fed to the compliant journos, because he knows his days are counted (please, please, please)?

If you look at the people close to Obama (one way or another), there's a lot of animus directed -- from both sides of the aisle -- at Sommers, Geithner and Emanuel, with the first two being the major Wall Street defenders. I'm not sure whether or not Obama can can -- and easily replace -- Sommers but I do know, for certain sure, that he cannot afford to can Geithner, even if the two no longer agree on anything. The reason is that any new nomination for Sec of Treasury would never make it through the Senate confirmation process, now that the Repubs have fine-tuned their obstructionist tactics and a lame Sec of Treasury is better than none.

But canning -- and replacing -- Emanuel would be a comparative piece of pie, since he serves at the pleasure of the President, not that of the Senate. Like replacing Desiree Rogers with Julianna Smoot, it would create some fluttering (and, maybe, even some squawking) in the Village Dovecote but a smooth transition could be achieved without too much effort.

Emanuel would be easy to sacrifice. But, Emanuel wouldn't like it one little bit to be the sacrificial lamb; he's given up his Congressional seat -- and quite a bit of power, current and future -- to become Obama's "firewall". He's staked his career on it. If he's ditched, he's left with nothing. Hence, all the preemptive crowing: I am the cock of this dunghill.

Anyway... That's my scenario and I'll stick with it :)

In Byzantium-on-the-Potomac
anything is possible when it comes to wheels-within-wheels, so I acknowledge your point of view. But I am not persuaded by your double blind theory that this is a conspiracy to eliminate Rahm. I think there are those who would like to eliminate him, and that thread is in the mix, which would explain some of Emanuel's old buddies leaking pro-Rahm pseudo-factoids to Milbank and Horowitz.

Notwithstanding, ultimately the effect is to hammer repeatedly the conservative theme that President Obama is weak, naive, ineffectual, indecisive, not a leader even of his own wild left liberals, and that he can redeem his presidency only if he slavishly follows Emanuel's DNC-type "middle" philosophy of pro-business policies as approved by big corporate donors and the Chicago Boys' religious devotion to Freidman's Free Market ideology---- in other words, Republican Lite.

Today, the Post's ombudsman points out the suspiciously high number of anonymous quotes and backgrounders in both Milbank and Horowitz, acknowledging that this raises many questions about the quality of the journalism involved, especially when Horowitz's article was front-paged as if it were a "news" story and not an opinion story... more than a little odd (is The Post once again trying to make news rather than report it? Typical of an Establishment-subservient institution.)

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