Peter Baker on Rahm's White House

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This week's glut of coverage on White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel focused heavily, as beltway D.C. media often does, on personality and conflict. Emanuel's fantastically cut-throat style has won him criticism from the left and right, and the hint of fighting within the White House has been scrutinized obsessively. But Emanuel's role in controlling the White House political machinery and his philosophy, whatever it is, have very real implications.

The New York Times' Peter Baker eschews the usual gossip -- Rahm swears a lot! -- for a deep, substantive look at Emanuel's political philosophy. Baker explores what it has meant for the White House, for U.S. politics, and for the Obama administration's governance.
If picking the leading practitioner of the dark arts of the capital was a Faustian bargain for Obama in the name of getting things done, why haven't things got done? [...]

If Emanuel’s philosophy is to put points on the board, to take what you can get and then cut a deal, to make everything negotiable except success, then the White House is testing the limits of Rahmism. For 14 months, the president has struggled with the balance between that pragmatism and the idealism of his campaign. At times, he disregarded Emanuel’s advice to scale back his goals, particularly on health care. At others, he has sacrificed campaign positions in hopes of achieving a compromise. [...]

For Emanuel, the last two months have been particularly frustrating. He finished last year boasting that Obama had the most productive first year of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and now he hears all the time about Obama’s lost first year. Emanuel for months has reminded anyone who would listen of a succession of victories that, he laments, have gone largely overlooked [...] but they all passed in the first half of last year. It is far harder to name examples of major legislation signed into law in the past nine months.
Baker writes about Rahm Emanuel the personality, to be sure, but only to better understand Rahm Emanuel the White House Chief of Staff. Baker's profile is not only by far the most studied and illuminating look at Emanuel's White House, it is a refreshing break from the commentary that often dominates political journalism
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.