Is there some sort of law requiring that every Washington profile include an anecdote about Rahm Emanuel? Chris Beam's widely discussed piece in the current New York magazine about New York Times columnist David Brooks has a White House aide, who Brooks demurely declines to name, calling him twice a week, the day before his column appears, to find out how worried the administration should be. Beam confidently identifies the aide as Emanuel.
An almost generic version of a Rahm anecdote appears today (Wednesday) as the lead of a piece about Rep. Darrell Issa, written by Mark Leibovich, the New York Times' current "writer in residence"—i.e., the one person at any given time who is permitted extraordinary leeway and freedom from copy-desk nit-pickery because he or she is such a good writer. (Former occupants of the chair include Maureen Dowd and the current editor of the Times, Bill Keller.) Anyway, here is the anecdote:
As a sign of the pride Representative Darrell Issa takes in annoying the Obama administration, consider his account of a recent exchange with Rahm Emanuel , a former congressman and now the White House chief of staff. In describing the episode — a chance encounter outside the House gym — Mr. Issa smirked and raised his middle finger.
"That’s the only thing Rahm did when he saw me," Mr. Issa, a California Republican, boasted in an interview in his House office. He waved the unfriendly digit in the air like a trophy before folding it into a nub (to mimic Mr. Emanuel, who lost part of his finger in a long-ago meat-cutting accident). More annoying? Mr. Emanuel, through a spokeswoman, said the incident did not occur.
As a narrative, it's a bit confusing. Emanuel gave Issa the finger. Is that all that happened? Or did Issa respond by mocking Emanuel's missing middle digit? If the first, Emanuel's obscene gestures are old news. If the second, that says more about Issa's attitude toward Emanuel than Emanuel's toward Issa. And why is it annoying—and who to—that Emanuel denies the episode? As I say, confusing.
But all the essential elements are there. The Rahm character in these narratives is just the latest version of the classic White House aide—profane but powerful. The President loves him like a son—and he'll do anything for "the old man." But he terrorizes hapless cabinet secretaries. And powerful committee chairmen on the Hill think he's a "prize S.O.B." But they do as he orders because the SOB has compromising photos. The fact that Rahm's alleged behavior so closely resembles that of Ari Gold, the character modeled after Emanuel's brother on the TV show Entourage, merely shows a lack of imagination among those who make this stuff up.
One thing Leibovich gets profoundly right is the Rahm character's mastery of the bizarre Washington custom of flattery-by-insult. Darrell Issa is obviously tickled pink that Rahm Emanuel flips him the bird.