Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dropping the Rahm Bomb

"I have three words for Congressional Republicans, and all of them are f***"

Returning from Ohio in triumph (still having trouble believing I'd ever write those words), Marcus and I spoke about the Rahm Emanuel pick for Chief of Staff. Marcus has a lot of respect for Rep. Emanuel's famous abilities, but is concerned about the reports of his ferocious temper and tendency to savage subordinates. This kind of behavior is not at all in keeping with the way Obama ran his campaign and Marcus was quite understandably concerned that Obama is moving away from the core organizational values that made him the most effective presidential candidate in modern history.

This is understandable, and I believe that President-Elect Obama is already taking steps to address this question. Before I write more, however, I should add that while Marcus respects Rahm very much, I'm more by way of being a rabid fan. My contact with Representative Emanuel has been pretty minimal, but I admire his intensity, intelligence, and aggression absolutely.

That caveat aside, I'm prepared to admit that those same traits aren't necessarily ideal, particularly the intensity and aggression bits. Rahm has been known to lay into subordinates, emphasizing his points by stabbing them in the forehead with his finger. His gladiatorial tendencies were incredibly useful during the Dems' time out of power, when he directed a hugely successful 2006 offensive at the Democratic Congressional Committee, then, having slain his enemies at the congressional level, took on the most powerful man in the United States - the Vice President himself. That same belligerence might not be such a boon in the office of a man elected on the promise of reaching across the aisle to do something other than strangle the first Republican handy.

This, of course, is where Marcus's concerns come from, and they're not unreasonable. My initial response is to suggest that Rahm Emanuel isn't always a blood-soaked gladiator - he can be a tremendous motivator, a skilled political operative, and a gifted negotiator. Further, a Chief of Staff takes on the character of his or her boss, and Emanuel is a bright man who will understand that Obama's patience for antagonistic or undisciplined staff is not in great supply.

More than that, though, the President-elect has made some key appointments that should keep Rahm on the straight and narrow. He appointed Pete Rouse, Tom Daschle's former of chief of staff (who was so powerful in that position that he was called the 101st Senator, Marcus tells me, and most recently serving as chief of staff in Obama's Senate Office and on his campaign) to be Deputy Chief of Staff. Obama has also appointed chief strategist David Axelrod to a senior adviser position. Neither of these appointments is a surprise, but they're significant in that, having picked a fiery Chief of Staff, Obama immediately surrounded him by men of uncommonly even temper. My sense is that Obama is building a box around Rahm, containing his ferocious energy from exploding in all directions and pointing it at one place - Capitol Hill.

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