Rahm The Space-Knight

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

I'm going to keep using that headline, until dude is out the White House. Anyway, coming off a slew of pro-Rahm profiles, I think David Broder is right, and Ezra Klein is more right. Here's more right:


The argument goes like this: "Emanuel 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." That advice would've gone like this: Do less on health care, move to jobs earlier, don't try to close Guantanamo.

Though I'm an avowed defender of Rahm Emanuel's performance as chief of staff, I'd be calling for his head if he were calling these shots. This critique only makes sense if you think about the presidency in terms of poll numbers rather than problems. Health-care reform, for instance, is inches from passage. If not for Scott Brown's unexpected victory in Massachusetts, it would have passed weeks ago. We'd be on our way to implementing a bill that would cover 30 million Americans, completely reform the insurance market, make a serious start on cost control, end the days when sick people couldn't get health insurance, and create a new coverage infrastructure that could absorb the flood of refugees from the dying employer-based system. That deserves some weight in this discussion.

Ezra nailed it a few months back when he noted, and I'm paraphrasing here, that a majority is meant to be used and eventually lost. There is, in the press, a profane bias toward political success, a sense that success is strictly defined by elections won. Left uninterrogated is the ends to which those elections serve.

What we're really talking about is the fake "objectivity" which the press worships. Serious policy reporting necessitates making calls, and making calls open you up to the charge of political bias. A good one to avoid that charge is to cover elections, in the way you cover sports. Ron Jaworski may love the Eagles, but if they're sucking it up, he has to say as much. Likewise, a reporter can be a socialist in his private life, but by covering the horse-race he's magically become objective. 

Some of the results are unintentional, but profoundly damaging. Reporters began talking about a White House bureaucrat as though he is the equal of far-reaching phenomenon like unemployment. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/03/rahm-the-space-knight/37015/