Hail to the Chief of Staff

November 13, 2008 by  


Courtesy Alexander Cockburn

Scenes from President-elect Barack Obama’s first post-election press conference in Chicago, November 7, 2008.  Also one photo is from an unidentified press conference with Rahm Emanuel.  Included are Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Pres-elect Barack Obama, and the Dean of the White House Press Corps, Helen Thomas (ctr of last photo).           REUTERS/Reed

The first trumpet blast of change ushers in Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff and gate keeper. This is the man who arranges his schedule, staffs out the agenda, includes, excludes. It’s certainly as sinister an appointment as, say, Carter’s installation of arch cold-warrior Zbigniev Brzezinski as his National Security Advisor at the dawn of his “change is here” administration in 1977.

Emanuel, as Ralph Nader points out in my interview with him below, represents the worst of the Clinton years. His profile as regards Israel is explored well on this site by lawyer John Whitbeck. He’s a former Israeli citizen, who volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians. Dad’s unreconstructed ethnic outlook has been memorably embodied in his recent remark to the Ma’ariv newspaper that “Obviously he [Rahm] will influence the president to be pro-Israel… Why wouldn’t he be [influential]? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”

Working in the Clinton White House, Emanuel helped push through NAFTA, the crime bill, the balanced budget and welfare reform. He favored the war in Iraq, and when he was chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 he made great efforts to knock out antiwar Democratic candidates. On this site in October and November, 2006, John Walsh documented both the efforts and Emanuel’s role in losing the Democrats seats they would otherwise have won.

In 2006 Emanuel had just published a book with Bruce Reed called The Plan: Big Ideas for America, with one section focused on “the war on terror”. Emanuel and Reed wrote, “We need to fortify the military’s ‘thin green line ‘around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and by expanding the U.S. army by 100,000 more troops. …Finally we must protect our homeland and civil liberties by creating a new domestic counterterrorism force like Britain’s MI5.” Recall that Obama has been calling throughout his recent campaign for an addition of 92,000 to the US Army and US Marine Corps.

Emanuel and Reed had fond words for the mad-dog Peter Beinart, neocon warrior theoretician for the Democrats, roosting Marty Peretz’s The New Republic, and author of The Good Fight where Beinart explained why a tough new national security policy is as essential to the future of progressive politics as a united front against totalitarianism and communism was to the New Deal and the Great Society. Emanuel and Reed also commended Anne-Marie Slaughter’s proposal for “a new division of labor in which the United Nations takes on economic and social assistance and an expanded NATO takes over the burden of collective security.” In other words, let NATO shoot the natives and the UN clean the floors.

Walsh took a hard look at the 2006 Democratic primary race between Christine Cegelis and Tammy Duckworth in Illinois’s 6th CD, a Republican District, which had elected the disgusting Henry Hyde from time immemorial. In 2004 Cegelis, who was only mildly antiwar, ran as the Democrat with a grass roots campaign and polled a remarkable 44 per cent in her first run. It was not too long before Hyde decided to retire, and the field seemed to be open for Cegelis in the November poll, in 2006.

Enter Rahm Emanuel, who promptly dug up a pro-war candidate, Tammy Duckworth. Although she had both her legs blown off in Iraq, she remained committed to “staying the course” in Iraq. Duckworth had no political experience and did not live in the 6th District. Emanuel raised a million dollars for her and brought in Joe Lieberman, Barack Obama, John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton to support her. Despite all this help and with the Cegelis campaign virtually penniless, Duckworth barely managed to eke out a primary victory by a measly four percentage points.

To win the House, the Dems had to win 15 seats from the Republicans. Walsh identified 22 candidates hand-picked by Emanuel to run in open districts or districts with Republican incumbents. Of these, nine adopted a US “must win” in Iraq position and only one of Rahm’s candidates was for prompt withdrawal from Iraq.

Then, after the election, Walsh assessed Rahm’s supposed brilliance in winning back the House. “Looking at all 22 candidates hand-picked by Rahm, “ Walsh wrote, “we find that 13 were defeated [including Duckworth], and only 8 won! And remember that this was the year of the Democratic tsunami and that Rahm’s favorites were handsomely financed by the DCCC. The Dems have picked up 28 seats so far, maybe more. So out of that 28, Rahm’s choices accounted for 8! Since the Dems only needed 15 seats to win the House, Rahm’s efforts were completely unnecessary. Had the campaign rested on Rahm’s choices, there would have been only 8 or 9 new seats, and the Dems would have lost. In fact, Rahm’s efforts were probably counterproductive for the Dems since the great majority of voters were antiwar and they were voting primarily on the issue of the war (60 per cent according to CNN). But Rahm’s candidates were not antiwar.

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