Rahmverload: 15,000 Words and 5 Conflicting Takes on Rahm Emanuel

How can one guy be a genius, a monster, and the savior and destroyer of Obama?

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It's been quite a week for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The hard-charging Chicagoan known for his bare-knuckle political wrangling received two very flattering profiles in the Washington Post, provoking a backlash and questions about whether he was saving the White House or in fact undermining it. In the week since, two magazine cover stories profiling Emanuel have come out, as have virulent accusations from a resigning Democratic congressman. Emanuel is reportedly "irritated by" and has "expressed regret for" the coverage. But that doesn't change the buzz. Here are the five wildly different views of Rahm and his role in leading the White House.

  • Does 'Rahmism' Work? The New York Times' Peter Baker asks, "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?" Baker suggests the paucity of White House accomplishments in the last nine months could be due in part to Emanuel's cut-throat, middle-way strategy. He notes that Emanuel is supposed to be all about politics, but the Democrats' loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat has been disastrous. "The disaffection with Emanuel has swelled since the Massachusetts election, and the knives have come out."
  • Smartest Man in the White House The Washington Post's Jason Horowitz says Emanuel's only real failure is that he is second-guessed within the White House, including in the oval office. He "was not aggressive enough in trying to persuade a singularly self-assured president and a coterie of true-believer advisers that 'change you can believe in' is best pursued through accomplishments you can pass."
  • Rahm Not So Influential The New Republic's Noam Scheiber is sympathetic to Emanuel's style of politics, but sees failures. He says Emanuel has lost "an awful lot" of key internal battles and some external ones. In Massachusetts, "Emanuel himself deserves significant blame for failing to produce a backup plan once Brown seemed likely to win." But given Emanuel's insistence that the White House push through health care before the election, which was ignored, "the episode may be the most emphatic vindication of the Emanuel approach one could ever imagine."
  • Obama's Personal Savior The Washington Post's Dana Millbank gets a bit carried away. "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." Where the White House has succeeded, it is because of Emanuel. Where it has failed, it is because Emanuel was not sufficiently heard.
  • 'Son Of The Devil's Spawn' That's the incensed characterization by retiring Democratic Congressman Eric Massa. "He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive," Massa said, accusing Emanuel of forcing an ethical inquiry onto the Congressman because he voted against the White House. He recalls a particularly confrontational moment. "I am showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.