On the Escalating Rahm Drama

It’s hard for those of us who are not political junkies or DC residents to relate to most official power struggles, but the one involving Rahm Emanuel has been building over the last few weeks to the point that it is getting hard not to notice (aside: for unrelated reasons Rahm has become a Person of Interest to this blog, as will become evident over the next ten days or so).

A brief synopsis for newcomers:

In some ways, the first serious salvo was an article by Edward Luce in the Financial Times, which discussed at length how Obama was unusually dependent on a tight inner circle of four people – Rahm; David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, both senior advisers; and Robert Gibbs – and attributed Obama’s declining fortunes to the fact that this group had been unable to change gears from campaigning to governing:

“Every event is treated like a twist in an election campaign and no one except the inner circle can be trusted to defend the president,” says an exasperated outside adviser.

The Luce piece got less play than it deserved initially, but it appeared to reframe how some viewed what was amiss with Team Obama. Roughly two weeks later, Leslie Gelb argued that Obama needed to shake up his team, in a piece titled “Replace Rahm“.

(Note: one can argue that the first major attack was the Jane Hamsher/Grover Norquist call for Rahm’s resignation in late December, alleging a persistent cover-up of his role at Freddie Mac. I question how much impact this had. The right and left were agog over this teki no teki [short for Japanese “teki no teki wa mikata”: enemy of enemy is friend], plus many consider Freddie to be an old hobbyhorse.)

So far, this looked like a typical search for scapegoats and solutions in the face of floundering performance. But then things took a bizarre turn.

A week after the Gelb piece, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post penned a truly vomititious article, “Why Obama needs Rahm at the top,” so fawning, indeed sychophantic that calling it propaganda is too kind. Propaganda is seldom so unctuous. It was simply stunning to see Rahm (or Friends of Rahm working fist in glove) devise with such a one-sided narrative.

But the desperation of the piece was not what made it seem so peculiar. What was remarkable was that it was an open attack on the President, claiming that Rahm had made consistently correct judgment calls (opposing closing Gitmo and sending Kahlid Sheik Mohammed to New York for trial; urging a less ambitious health care reform bill).

And the Rahm image-boosting campaign continued unabated. On March 2, Rahm got a page one story in the WaPo by Jason Horowitz, with the same unflattering-to-Obama story line but some new tidbits: Rahm was also right on jobs, more emphasis on Rahm as the voice of reason, and (after two full pages of hagiography) some snippets of the critics’ case.

David Broder of the Washington Post today decided to call this orchestrated love-fest out today in “The fable of Emanuel the Great“:

In the space of 10 days, thanks in no small part to my own newspaper, the president of the United States has been portrayed as a weakling and a chronic screw-up …This remarkable fiction began unfolding on Feb. 21…

It sounded, for all the world, like the kind of orchestrated leaks that often precede a forced resignation in Washington.

Except that the chief of staff doesn’t usually force the president out…..Maybe the sources on these stories think Obama is the one who should leave.

Here in a few paragraphs is what others high in the White House think is going on:

The underlying problem, in their eyes, is a badly damaged economy that has sunk Obama’s poll numbers and emboldened Republicans to blockade his legislative program.

Emanuel, who left a leadership post in the House to serve his fellow Chicagoan, Obama, has worked loyally for the president and is not suspected personally by his colleagues of inspiring these Post pieces.

But, as one White House staffer said to me, “Rahm likes to win,” and when the losses began to pile up, he probably vented his frustrations to some of his old pals in Congress. It’s clear that some of them are talking to the press…

None of this would rise above the level of petty Washington gossip except that some of Emanuel’s friends are so eager to exonerate him that they are threatening to undermine the president.

The Broder piece led to more speculation that Rahm was on his way out, both on some blogs, and one reader said he heard a mention on ABC radio.

Now I am not a DC expert, nor do I have any particular insights, but let’s reason from the well known character of this crowd. All accounts say they ran a remarkably disciplined campaign, so this apparent disarray looks mighty peculiar. All accounts say the inside group is extremely loyal.

Let me give you a probable outcome and then some speculation.

Unlike Timothy Geithner, another scalp some outsiders would like to collect, Rahm appears to have no vivid, politically unpopular decisions associated with his name (his personal unpopularity is not germane here). Recall the big WSJ reason why they thought Geithner was not at risk, despite widespread public fury with bank-friendly policies: most of the public does not know anything about him. Nor, unlike many top staffers who are forced out, is he the focus of a scandal (despite the Hamsher/Grovquist calls for an investigation). Even those who want him “out” merely want him in a different role.

So, despite the escalating headlines, this is an inside the Beltway drama. Obama’s permanent campaign posture leads his team to treat every problem as solvable through PR. I would think a cold-blooded calculus is that moving Rahm somewhere else does not even register in the heartlands, or if it did, could be seen as showing weakness (or at least that would be the reasoning).

So I don’t see Rahm move/departure as likely given the current facts on the ground.

However, the one fact not adequately incorporated into this calculus is whether Rahm’s own self-promotion damaged his relationship with Obama. I don’t buy for one second the line that Broder was fed, that Rahm was not suspected personally of being behind the Post pieces. Please. That account simply means that the officialdom has closed ranks, regardless of what the actual beliefs are.

For Rahm to call Milbank directly would be unseemly, but the idea that he simply complained vociferously to friends and then three stories (a second Milbank story reiterated some of the messages of his first story) with similar narratives run in less than two weeks is just happenstance? These stories bear all the hallmarks of being plants.

So let’s unpeel this.

The intransigence of the Rahm campaign was obvious BEFORE Broder called it out. These leaks/plants make Obama look bad. Broder was merely calling more attention to the obvious.

What would any NORMAL manager/executive do? If anyone working for me pulled a stunt like that, the minute I got wind of the Milbank piece, I would have the Rahm equivalent before me and rip him new asshole.

There would be NO second Milbank piece, no Horowitz piece. The message would be “if you are on this team, you make sure this NEVER happens again.” If Obama had reamed Rahm, Rahm would most certainly gone to his buddies and told them to cease and desist telling the media about his complaints.

So we are left with two possible conclusions:

1. Obama is an even bigger wuss than I thought (and I already gave him very high marks in the wuss department)

2. Obama is on board with this PR campaign

Assume Rahm the devious SOB sold Obama on this. How does making Obama look bad (by attacking his decisions) advance the ball?

Remember who the audience is: is anyone really following this story that closely besides Beltway types and political junkies (oh, and perhaps most important, journalists who write about politics?) Even though my buddy did catch a snippet on ABC radio, I’m not certain anyone outside the political hothouse is paying much attention.

What decisions that Obama made are attacked in this narrative? Ones that were left leaning. The real subtext here is that the progressives are all wrong, that Obama’s efforts to deliver on campaign promises were all doomed to failure, so he should be given a free pass. The Rahm PR push is a Trojan horse that allows Team Obama to push messages that serve Obama’s need to distance himself from his “change you can believe in” campaign positioning, which is looking more and more like a baldfaced bait and switch. (Note this isn’t quite as tidy as one might like; there is not just the Obama the supposed idealist, which I have trouble swallowing, versus Rahm the realist. There is another subtext to the story, which is neither flattering nor helpful, that of Obama being in a bit of an echo chamber. That could be the messengers adding their own frustrations/observations).

This way, Obama gets to have his cake and eat it too, provided he is willing to live with the short term embarrassment/annoyance of Rahm appearing to criticize him through proxies.

Look at the message:

1. Obama wanted to live up to his campaign promises of closing Gitmo and health care reform

2. Rahm the realist says No! No! not doable, but then falls into line like a good soldier. Rahm devotes his bulldog energies to trying to make the impossible happen. And all the efforts came to naught. So abandoning all those pinko promises is the only possible course of action

So this story looks like/is Rahm defense (which separately has its uses), but look at how much press it gives to the message that Rahm (and possibly Obama) wants to stress: what the progressives want is unreasonable, undoable. Obama tried, failed, we need to move to the center (really the right). Thus this is all part of an awkward but necessary process (from Team Obama’s perspective) of managing the optics of Obama’s left leaning campaign pitch versus the reality of his center-right governing posture.

This Rahm-led salvo could thus be an attack on the progressive demands and simultaneously deflects their criticism of him.

Of course, the proof will be in how this drama plays out. The Broder piece took this tempest in a teapot to a higher level. The next week will reveal a great deal.

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  1. Dekan


    FYI also in WAPO bv Colbert King:


    “However, I posited, there is a danger in relying on these power brokers, be they Democrats or Republicans. They may join a new administration and set out to work for its success. But let the new president hit a rough patch — as all chief executives do — and some Washington insiders will go to ground in a heartbeat.

    That’s because the last thing Washington insiders want is association with anything resembling a bumbling failure. Their immediate concern is to salvage their reputations and maintain their A-list standing in this ever-so-status-conscious town.

    One way they cover themselves when things go off the rails is to begin lamenting to friends and — directly or through friends — to journalists about how the new and “naive” president is failing to heed their wise counsel. ”

    Also his intial piece warning about the dangers of Washington insiders:


  2. psychohistorian

    I see much kabuki and to what end?

    How many levels of indirection are there?

    How opaque can the rich/poor class struggle get and the world still go on?

    More textual white noise….

  3. Jesse

    There is a power struggle of sorts going on not so much among individuals, but factions or power groups within the Democratic Party in reaction to their problems and different slants on how to proceed.

    If you don’t know where the Clinton camp is on this one, you don’t know where the action is. Still the most powerful group in the Dems. Obama is not in the camp.

    1. anon

      That may explain why Summers and Geithner survive. If Hillary’s planning to unseat Obama in 2012 the BillC/Rubin financial world needs to stay in place for her for 2012.

      I can’t for the life of me rationalize why Geithner is proposing nothing on the derivatives front, when anyone with a pulse, especially a Treasury Secretary, knows that’s where the danger lies.

      But as the Rubin/summers faction’s puppet, his obstinence makes sense. His open disdain toward the president clearly signals Obama’s impotence. Obama’s captured by Summers and it seems Summers is still winning. Makes your skin crawl.

    2. George Says

      Do you realize how paranoid you sound? It reads as if you believe the Clintons are still in power even though Obama is president. You do realize how imbecilic that makes Obama look, right? I know you want to offer an apologetic without saying it, but sheesh, you should really think these things through.

  4. Swedish Lex

    Looking at it from this side of the pond, it is a bad sign when the Consigliere start caring more about their reputations than about actually helping the Prince.

  5. alex

    To me the president isn’t a person, he’s part of a package deal. That’s true of all presidents. I don’t know, or care, whether any given actions by an administration are driven by the president or some members of his team. As a voter the only thing that matters is the overall result.

  6. attempter

    That whole thesis is still only believable among beltway types who echo it among themselves. Most Americans know it’s a crock of shit that Obama couldn’t have pursued his promises, or that actually governing in the public interest wouldn’t have been popular.

    That’s the corporatist, pro-Republican lie the MSM and Washington made up for themselves, and keep echoing among themselves.

    But maybe that’s what this really is – a stupid internecine propaganda reinforcement session, which has no real world meaning. We in the real world know exactly what’s going on with this vile corporatist administration of thugs.

    Repulsive. See how it gets when you’re committed to prostitution and lies but have to pretend you’re on the side of good and not evil?

    How repugnant and filthy they all are. They’re just filth.

    1. alex

      “Most Americans know it’s a crock of shit that Obama couldn’t have pursued his promises, or that actually governing in the public interest wouldn’t have been popular.”

      Agreed. My attitude is that as president, hence de facto party leader, and with both houses controlled by his party, I’m not interested in excuses. Yes, I understand that we (thankfully) don’t have an elected king, but I’m not interested in endless beltway soap opera excuses either. Do the damn job you were elected to do, or get out of office. I suspect that most Americans feel similarly.

  7. Dan Duncan

    Interesting hypothesis…

    BTW: What’s the opposite of Occam’s Razor?

    Whatever it is, you’re using it to full force and effect.

    1. gruntled

      Sounds like a real Byzantine conspiracy theory. I wonder if we’ll be able to see how it’s resolved.

      But I have to agree that Obama does look like a first class wuss, and I wouldn’t buy a used car from Rahm!

  8. craazyman

    Economic news is kinda slow these days, eh?

    I just hope Gold keeps rallying. Anyone have a good 10-bagger? I want to get rich quick, within a year, and then move to Paris so I don’t have to read about these morons anymore. I prefer Sarkozy and his morons.

    I need a 10 bagger that goes straight up because I usually put in a very shallow stop loss.

  9. Jonathan McNamee


    Nice language! If Obama is such a wuss, how is he going to ‘rip’ Rahm ‘a new one’ etc?

  10. Richard Kline

    Rahm Emanuel is 180 lb. of egotistical depleted uranium in the shape of an oversized horse turd. If you’ve followed his career, and to a degree I have, you know that he is everything that is wrong with politics and the quintessence of everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party. I had zero confidence in Obama ‘doing the right thing’ about _anything_ after Election night, but when his first move was to recruit UraniRahm I could see meltdown looming for his Presidency. So far, we’re right on schedule . . . .

    Emanuel is all about power and money; he cares less than nothing for any kind of policy, policy success, principle, or The Good of the Country (whatever that is). As such, Rahm was a natural fit for the Clinton cabal of Nude Democrats, and he is still central to it. Tight with Rubin, too. This is why Obama recruited him: to make sure that the Clinton cabal would come on board to his Presidency, and not undermine him. It was a deal.

    That ‘still in campaign mode’ meme: purest bullshit. All of those progressive folks who crafted the Change You Can Believe in stuff were packed off to Siberia with a souvenir cold drink coaster before the election excelsior was swept up; you’ve covered this yourself in the past, Yves. Emanuel had _nothing_ to do with Obama’s campaign. Axelrod is the only carry over, and personally I wonder just how much influence he actually has with BO.

    To me, Emanuel is the Cheney Lite of Obama’s Presidency. You see, everything that we have seen of Obama’s _main policies_ since his inauguration is right in the neoliberal, bend to the right groove which Emanuel has cut for many, many years. Oh sure, a few marginal policies Obama might go the other way on the advice of others for a limp attempt at better visuals, but the red meat of Obama’s actions all comes from Rahm’s ‘gorge the rich’ table. Emanuel is completely and openly contemptuous of the progressive side of the Democratic Party, and has done everything possible to marginalize them while demanding that they back him. Emanuel was a considerable power in the House—which is a-maz-ing considering that he was a total DISASTER for the Party as an electoral strategist. Because he is as contemptuous of the voting proles as he is of progressives, with lost races the result. All of this ‘negotiate with the [non-negotiating] Republicans’ stuff: that’s Rahm.

    And that’s the problem, you see. Rahm is hated by many in his own Party. Rahm has been the architect of the ‘cling to the banks’ policy, which has gone sour in a major way for Barack Obama and the Party. [Which is no surprise because Emanuel has a great track record of backing his backers over his Party and his consitutency.] Any attempt by Emanuel to say now, “I was the ‘push jobs’ guy” is ridiculous on the face of it. Rahm has been blatant that he’s happier making concessions to Republicans [which actions take policy where he wants it anyway as I understand it] than even answering the phone whem Congress members in his own Party call him. Rahm has been the bankers’ guy in the inner circle from the first, and that is why others in the Democratic Party have turned on HIM. That special election that the Demos lost: the candidate recruited and the electoral ‘strategy’ are plasticene reproductions of the same crap Rahm Emanuel has lost important elections for his party by using FOR YEARS. Having Obama go and put his prestige on the line personally so that the loss stuck to him and his policies even closer: stinks of Emanuel’s ‘wow the rubes with charm’ crap.

    This is why Rahm is sounding desperate: the Demos need a head to roll for the way things have gone bad, and Emanuel is the obvious choice. Problem is, if Obama ‘reassigns him’ it looks like Emanuel’s appointment was a mistake from the first, so Barack will get little credit for it. So in his inimitable way, Obama isn’t getting _his_ hands dirty defending his policy point man but letting him twist in the wind. When Emanuel goes “It will be his decision.” I’m of the view that Emanuel will be gone baby gone before the next election cycle gets rolling, but I don’t know how long he’ll cling on. And Rahh’s gettign pissy now because a) he can’t hang the failures of the past year on anyone else since his fingerprints and teeth marks are all over them, and b) his boss won’t defend him.

    Wuss isn’t a word I use [long story], but it should be obvious by now that Barack Obama holds the trademark on it. But while I doubt that the man who replaces Emanuel will be any better, he couldn’t really be worse.

    1. jdmckay

      You pretty much sum up my observations/sentiments as well… good post Richard.

      but when his first move was to recruit UraniRahm I could see meltdown looming for his Presidency.

      Yep. And enforced w/nearly every subsequent appointment (Chu being exception, but BO has pretty much put him on an island by himself).

    2. chicago mike

      “Rahm has been the architect of the ‘cling to the banks’ policy…”

      “Rahm has been the bankers’ guy in the inner circle from the first…”

      What’s your evidence?

      Emanuel advocated that bank CEO pay be limited to $500,000.


      More generally, he & Axelrod advised Obama to take a harder line with the banks, but Geithner & Summers’ advice swayed Obama.



      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Google where Rahm raised his money from.

        Rahm was also THE moving force in getting the TARP passed after it was first turned down. Rahm was also the loudest voice against nationalizing banks in early 2009.

        Johnson provides no sources on his “Axelrod and Rahm” comment. Given that Rahm’s allies claimed that Rahm was behind the jobs initiative, which was counterfactual, I’d like to see more concrete support for this isolated claim.

  11. Dikaios Logos

    One missing story from this litany is Dan Froomkin’s piece: http://bit.ly/crPBNF

    Final paragraph from Froomkin:
    “To Emanuel, victory is the only thing, and rather than recognize the error of his ways and recalibrate, he is publicly declaring that the now widely-recognized enfeeblement of his boss’s presidency is not his failure, but his vindication. Hail Emanuel triumphant.”

  12. middyfeek

    Re this tempest in a teapot, it reminds me of what has often been said about the NFL and the Super Bowl; there are at least a billion Chinese who don’t give a shit.

  13. jdmckay

    With all due respect Yves, my view is this post is a great example of how one can waste time ingratiating opinions that just don’t matter at all. Just as documenting BushCo atrocities, week after week & year after year affected change in policy approximately -0-, so it is with this gibberish.

    Yah, AFAIC Rahm’s an operator and no more. And if I was inclined towards Soaps I could probably get into this sub-drama. And what’s going on w/Lindsey Lohan these days, if I may ask?

    Rahm is not the first cause problem here, only one tentacle of a hydra whose head seemingly can’t be cut off.

    I’m a busy guy… I actually have a life. I took months from my life to work for BO here in Albuquerque… ran precincts, worked phones, walked the streets etc. Despite his meager track record, I took his intentions on faith.

    So much for faith.

    I have been disappointed beyond my worst nightmare. He’s stood for nothing that matters, and as other commmentors have said in various language in this thread, offers nothing but speeches on top of vapid policy.

    There’s plenty of majorly visible politicos here in USA who, for even moderately informed ears, a few minutes listening to their daily screeds can cause stomach unrest. Perhaps none so more than Sarah Palin.

    Laying in bed last night, I was ruminating on the utter uselessness of team BO, and for first time it occurred to me (I hate to say it) that BO & Palin are 2 sides of the same coin:

    * both love to make speeches, love the spotlight, seemingly are mesmerized by their own sillyiloquy.
    * both pander to audience of the day, throwing out a few tidbits w/a modicum of relevance, but no core/fundamental belief… AGRESSIVE KNOW NOTHINGNESS.
    * both seem utterly disinterested, of themselves, mastering issues and contemplating solutions… eg. they leave those tasks to their court jester wordsmiths and burp-up the narratives.

    Personally, I’ve more or less accepted the fact that this-is-it… that the Emperor has no clothes, that we are bound by law to finance the Emperor anyway, and the the Emperor rules.

    My suggestion: try writing an article on HOW TO THRIVE IN A WORLD POWER SOCIETY SLIDING INTO 3RD WORLD SUB-MEDIOCRITY (or something along those lines).

    1. Dave of Maryland

      I hadn’t thought of the Palin/Obama pairing. That’s a useful observation.

      Okay. Obama is (was) a guy who would do anything, say anything, to get the next job. A job he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do because it wasn’t powerful enough. Only the next job would give the keys to the magic kingdom, to the one man on the planet who could pull the sword from the stone. Or so he claimed, and so we believed.

      Now he’s got the ultimate job but, of course, can’t handle it. (“Wuss” is too kind.) This isn’t so much the Peter Principle at work, as the Peter Candidate, moving through the waters.

      Sarah Palin would be a wonderful successor, don’t you think? Our next Peter-in-Chief.

      1. jdmckay

        I hadn’t thought of the Palin/Obama pairing. That’s a useful observation.

        There’s one other commonality I neglectfully omitted (slaps forehead): both took the onramp to national spotlight through -1- speech (and nothing else): BO, at Kerry’s ’04 DNC get together, Palin “acceptance” speech (riddled w/lies, BTW) at McCain’s similar ho-down.

        Seems instructive that both had pretty much nothing else in the way of creds.

        1. curlydan

          Obama had 2 speeches. The first one in 2002 which gave him his “anti-war” credibility for progressives…something that seems laughable now. I’ve seen that speech referenced as often as his DNC speech.

    2. carol

      “for first time it occurred to me (I hate to say it) that BO & Palin are 2 sides of the same coin:”

      I do hope (dangerous word in this context) that it also was the last time it occurred to you.

      For all of the huge disappointments Obama has caused, to compare his speaking skills (also away from auto-cue and hand written words!) and his knowledge of a broad range of topics (granted, monetary policy and derivatives disasters excluded) to those of Palin is way too generous to Palin. Imagine Palin could have done that 7 hrs discussion re health care bill?

      If team Obama continues bailouts and handouts to ‘savvy businessmen’, worthy of their fat cat bonuses, then he may well end up a one term president. However, if he were to run against Palin, he’ll get another term in 2012.

      1. jdmckay

        Well Carol, I admire your defense of our eloquent president. But, to borrow a metaphor from John Stewart:

        that’s like being the skinniest kid a a fat farm.

        I mean, really… what’s the point of disassembling the finer distinctions of utter ineptitude and committed do nothingness. They both work hard to build monuments to themselves, which are utterly useless to society as a whole.

        Why argue whether the monument is green or orange?

        Time would be better spent pounding sand.

    3. craazyman

      Yeah Lindsey hit the skids big time. I really feel bad for her because I can see how she got herself into that mess, having the propensity myself to crash like that. I think Obama is drinking heavily now, did you hear that little news blip from his doctor?

      I was going to just say “why not?” and go full tilt for Sarah — until I saw her on some TV talk show being interviewed.

      I said to myself, “This woman is completely insane. Totally insane.” She had that bright lunar madness gleam in her eye talking about the Military and Defense and being at war with the kind of people that Obama won’t confront. Uh huh.

      So I said “Holy Shit. I don’t care how nice her bod is, for a president. ha ha. I said Forget That. No way.”. The only thing left to do is move to Paris, France and fade away into the Illuminations lost in some absinthe or opium den.

  14. EmilianoZ

    Typical good cop/bad cop show. Good cop Obama really tried to help the little people. He really did, honest. But bad cop republicans were intractable. Rahm is just the bearer of bad news. Bad cop is too strong. Sorry people, better luck next time!

  15. eric anderson

    Broder: “In the space of 10 days, thanks in no small part to my own newspaper, the president of the United States has been portrayed as a weakling and a chronic screw-up…”

    Of course, it is the staff — the cabinet, the czars, the department heads — who are screwing up. But Obama chose the screw-ups who are screwing up. Like Janet “the system worked” Incompetano. Timmy “the Gold-man” Geithner. And don’t forget Ben “Bubbles” Bernanke for a second term.

    Rahm should resign? Maybe the guy who picked him should resign.

  16. Robin

    The Leslie Gelb article was interesting in that he agrees that Rahm ought to go, along with some other advisors.

    But Gelb’s choices to replace them?! OMG—even worse!

    “Erskine Bowles, president of the University of North Carolina and former Clinton chief of staff; Leon Panetta, now CIA director and formerly White House chief as well under Clinton; Sylvia Mathews, a former deputy chief of staff also under Clinton; and John Podesta….”

    Oh, it gets worse…Jake Tapper replacing Gibbs…..and then this:

    “James Jones, the National Security Adviser, has to move on
    ……One Democrat who could step in now, despite his age, is Zbigniew Brzezinski….”

    But I can’t leave out–

    “Yes, many of the pros suggested above have reached their golden years. But 70 and even 80 are the new 60.”

    No. Just…no.


  17. emm

    This is at best a diversion. A distraction.

    Hopefully something more substantive might come out.

    I want more on the FED. How dirty it is. There’s a good post at zerohedge.com. (link here might still be out of date)

  18. Siggy


    What you’re commenting on is the exercise of the Chicago Way. It’s a response to a political-economic situation that President Obama inherented the day he swore to uphold the Constitution.

    When considered in light of the Chicago Way, what we are watching is maneuver in anticipation of two coming elections. When you recognize the foregoing, it is clear that it is very important to note actual actions taken and to generally ignore all manner of speech and reportage by the media. It’s what they do that really matters and in that regard there is really very little that they can do to alter the current trend of the economy.

    There was a Mayor in Chicago (Bilandic) who couldn’t shovel snow very well, he did not get re-elected. In Chicago, it’s what have you done for me lately? For President Obama and Mr. Emanuel, the Democratic party is saying what have you done for us lately?

    This coming election will be of considerable interest and we will find out just how perceptive the body politic is.

  19. Eric

    Yes, but Guantanamo will be closed (late versus the promise date, for sure) and by Easter one or possibly two health care reform bills will have been approved by Congress. So I don’t quite get the point of having a complicated interest in spinning the story this way.

  20. radicalized

    Rahm is son of Terrorism. His father was a member of the Irgun, which murdered civilians as a way of getting rid of the British and Palestinians in Palestine. Rahm Holds Dual Isreali American citizenship and left the US to fight for Israel against Saddam. He is a certified agent of the Mossad.

    “The Israelis control the policy in the congress and the senate.”

    — Senator Fullbright, Chair of Senate Foreign Relations Committee: 10/07/1973 on CBS’ “Face the Nation”.

    Any guesses as to who the real boss is in D.C.? BO isn’t a wuss, he is just trying to figure out how to betray his country and just not make it so obvious.

  21. Fred

    “…look at how much press it gives to the message that Rahm (and possibly Obama) wants to stress: what the progressives want is unreasonable, undoable. Obama tried, failed, we need to move to the center (really the right).”

    Here’s a problem you don’t appear to address: Obama never tried to push the progressive agenda on health care, to take one example. Instead of Medicare for All (or extending the private insurance Congressional health plan to all), he cut a secret deal with Big Pharma, lied about the deal, then admitted he did make a deal. He appears to have made a similar deal with hospitals to nuke the public option. The progressive approach was undoable only because Obama failed to try. He failed to support those policy options.

    What did get tried is the moderate Republican to conservative Republican approach. Which, when you look at most of Team Obama’s policies, is the approach their policies have taken for health care, the environment, military issues, and national security issues. We don’t have a true Democratic president whose interests lie with the 95%+ of Americans who work for a living and millions of small businesses. We have a Republican president whose policies side with giant corporations, the police state, the military industrial complex, and the wealthiest of the wealthy, an audience Republicans have tended to for generations.

    The sooner pundits realize Obama is, at a policy level at least, a moderate Republican the sooner we can have a realistic discussion about policies. It’s unhealthy to pretend Obama is a real Democrat.

    1. Blissex

      «We don’t have a true Democratic president whose interests lie with the 95%+ of Americans who work for a living and millions of small businesses.»

      Regrettably this is a severely deluded point of view. The key statistic is that 70% of voters (and about 100% of campaign donors) are landlords and share owners, and look to becoming RICH with capital gains.

      «We have a Republican president whose policies side with giant corporations, the police state, the military industrial complex, and the wealthiest of the wealthy, an audience Republicans have tended to for generations.»

      The President is a Republican because 70% of voters are “F*CK YOU! I got mine” Republicans, and he wanted to be elected.

      That 70% of voters “know” deep in their heart that they are going to be WINNERS and that their interests are aligned with those of the “wealthiest of the wealthy”, being rentier property owners, and that their class enemies are the exploitative parasites who buy mansions with CRA loans, cadillacs with welfare, and t-bone steaks with food stamps. They think “good riddance” about those monsters that want to STEAL THEIR CAPITAL GAINS.

      Persuading the politically active middle classes that real or financial property based capital gains will make them rich quick and align their interests with the “wealthiest of the wealthy”, not the vile “untermensch” in the “poorest of the poor” has been a very good strategy for conservatives. My usual quote from Norquist:

      «The 1930s rhetoric was bash business — only a handful of bankers thought that meant them. Now if you say we’re going to smash the big corporations, 60-plus percent of voters say “That’s my retirement you’re messing with. I don’t appreciate that”. And the Democrats have spent 50 years explaining that Republicans will pollute the earth and kill baby seals to get market caps higher. And in 2002, voters said, “We’re sorry about the seals and everything but we really got to get the stock market up.»

      «The growth of the investor class–those 70 per cent of voters who own stock and are more opposed to taxes and regulations on business as a result — is strengthening the conservative movement. More gun owners, fewer labor union members, more homeschoolers, more property owners and a dwindling number of FDR-era Democrats all strengthen the conservative movement versus the Democrats.»

  22. Kevin Egan


    it’s not paranoia when they’re really out to get you…

    This ingenious bit of deduction fits very well with my experience of disinformation and capo-consigliere strategies in various Byzantine bureaucracies; it’s the best connecting of dots on this weird, weird Rahm boomlet that I’ve seen.

    I’m curious: I made similar anti-Obama arguments to those I read in these comments two years ago, because I was a Hillary supporter (I think experience has value, and she had demonstrated amazing toughness over and over again since 1992). Of course, I voted for Obama.

    I don’t know where you were in that dustup, since I’m a fairly new reader, and it’s hard to argue such a huge counterfactual. But just for fun, do you have any thoughts on whether Hillary would have done any better in her (sigh) first year as President?

    Great blog, by the way: thank you for one of my every day must-reads.

  23. Seal

    Yeah, yeah – Rahm Rahm Rahm. It could quite be the case Obama is incapable of governing.

  24. john bougearel


    You are right, I for one have not been paying any attention at all to this shoving and pushing in Washington politics.

    Perhaps in all this maneuvering and garnering of media support, what we really need to takeaway from this is the following message:

    “Rahm For President in 2012”

    Rahm vs. BO vs. Palin, boy what a spectacle that would be, and right smack dab in the middle of when the next and most serious phase of the financial crisis is due to take place: in the middle of 2012.

  25. scharfy

    Its been a circus since day one.

    Obama should have never followed Reid/Pelosi off the lefty ledge. Rahm was right on that.

    However people are discouraged off because no one’s been prosecuted after the financial collapse.

    Say what you want about Bush, but Enron,Tyco, Healthsouth, Worldcom -ALL had indictments. The DOJ was headhunting executives and jailing them. Holder seems to be more worried about the 26 gitmo terrorists civil rights rather than the debasement of our entire financial system and the robbery of the American public.

    I feel he’s been stonewalled on healthcare for exactly that reason.

  26. Hugh

    Obama and Rahm may be Blue Dog status quo corporatists but they aren’t brain dead. They know Democrats are going to get creamed in November and they are setting progressives up to take the blame for electoral defeats. Obama got elected on a platform of change and progressive rhetoric. He proceeded to freeze progressive people and ideas out of his Administration. The few that he did admit like Dawn Johnsen at OLC he has left languishing in the Senate. As for civilian trials or closing Gitmo, he has been walking those back for months. This is, in fact, an extremely anti-progressive President and Congress, but an added bonus of their cynical use of progessive language in speeches and the campaign is that they can use that tenuous connection to justify their failures. Progressives probably will get tarred by their failures, but most Americans, I think, are still going to see Obama and the Democrats as the ones ultimately responsible. Their almost inevitable further veer to the right after the elections is only going to consolidate their failures to govern. And in 2012,the blaming the progressives ploy won’t work, and more importantly progressives are unlikely to support them. This is something that Obama and the Democrats and their crappy ideas are doing to themselves.

    1. Richard Kline

      While I agree with you, Hugh, that the vector you describe of ‘Blame the lefties’ is going to be Emanuel’s mantra—since it has been for twenty years—the part I’ve never understood is why progressives lie down like dogs over this. The Democratic Party has been anti-labor and anti-progressive since 1982. Progressives are about a third of the Congressional Democrats, more in some regions less in others. Yet within their own party they are regularly castrated and shat upon by the deal makers who are corporatist, center-right, and far happier cutting deals across the aisle than with their nominal compatriots.

      What needs to happen is for the progressives to leave the Democratic Party as a group and start their own. I’m dead serious, though I know that said liberals and progressives don’t have the guts. Yes, they would then have to run against corporate funded Democrats. Yes, it would be very difficult to make a good run for the Presidency. However, progressive votes would have to be courted rather than demanded in Congress and in state legislatures, and progressives would stand a better chance thereby of actually _winning on some of their issues_. A further downside is that the last sensible isolates in the Republican Party would most likely abandon it’s shell to the Tea Potters and join the center-right bulk of the Democrats as the Demublicans. That’s what they all are now anyway. At least the public would get a real choice: progressives, oligarchs, or crazies.

      Labor and Progressives owe the Democrats nothing since the Democrats have done nothing for them for thirty years, i.e. ‘lately.’ So they should leave the bosses and work for themselves. But as I said, no guts. Ergo, no glory.

      1. jdmckay

        (…)the part I’ve never understood is why progressives lie down like dogs over this.

        Same here. AFAIC BO had unprecedented opportunity to straighten a lot of things out: judiciary, econ/finance, establish meaningful national priorities… just soooo much.

        Whole swath of USA that had supported “compassionate conservatism” and shrink wrapped neo-conservative mantras of patriotism/free markets et’al… although it took 2 terms of BushCo/pass-through-repub-K-street congress’ saturating malfeasance for these folks to get they’d been had… these folks finally did get it.

        The seas had parted for Obama to lead the country through honest appraisal of what happened on the way to ruin, cut out the rot (or at least a lot of it), and reconstitute &mobilize national resources around well explained, self evident pursuits that could restore health & vigor to a largely corrupted society.

        BO did none of this… nothing. Ab-so-lute-ly nothing.

        Whether cleaning up WS, Bush’s US Attorney politicization, the near incomprehensable lies upon lies in ME/Iraq policy, and of course explaining to US public the nuts and bolts of “financial meltdown”…. again, nothing.

        And the continuity of this nothingness is… (no words to aptly describe it) breathtaking?

        As a bell weather of this nothingness, just in last couple weeks, we have (finally) release of Bush era “torture docs” which paint an incontrovertible picture of lies upon lies, depravity, and erosion of national moral grounding. Again… breathtaking in scope.

        Yet, BO’s DOJ has swept the whole thing under the rug… the whole-fucking-thing. From BushCo’s stacking GITMO tribunals w/partisan & ideological hacks, to massive (and as yet largely undocumented) renditions to torture destinations, to years of mindless wee-hour sweeps through Baghdad disappearing 10’s of thousands (literally) “jihad age” youth into various prisons (secret and otherwise)… with mostly no evidence whatsoever…

        Then somehow convincing a US public that all these folks were enemy combatants, Al Quada operatives out to get us, the “worst of the worst”… thus deserving of any treatment: mock burials, genital mutilation, beatings…

        And most of these “combatants”, as it turned out, US had -0- evidence… ZERO, of any activity related to what they were accused of.

        For those who have missed this particular cycle of news… somehting easy to do as MSM has not only ignored it entirely but given exhonerating emphasis to the entirely dishonest claims at exhoneration of Bush’s worst offenders (Yoo/Bybee and WH/OPC attorneys involved in this episode), I would suggest folks take the time to bone uhttp://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2010/03/on-the-escalating-rahm-drama.html?replytocom=90649#respondp on this stuff.

        It is, absolutely, a point in time statement which pretty much charactarizes & captures the moral state of USA.

        Good place to start is last few weeks of postings on this matter at EW’s place… she (and superb commenters) have dissected and documented this thing in well beyond convincing fashion.

        The ACLU’s TortureBlog pretty good resource as well.

        In short, these people… Yoo/Bybee and Bush’s torture team broke US/International laws. Documented timelines establish their legal rationales having been created after the torture events they were publicized as giving guidance to.

        Bush’s entire DOJ legal apparatus engaged in lieing about it.

        People died as a result of US, BushCo initiated torture.

        As only one example, Yoo and his apologists have said (and memos reflect) that they drew the line in EIT’s (eg: “approved interrogation techniques”) at mock burials. Yet, by the time these memos were written, we know that mock burials (and so much more) had already occurred.

        They occurred in large, well planned and executed fashion at multiple locations, with unconnected descriptions from many subjects from multiple locations of near identical treatment.

        From an Esquire article:

        The Ticking Is The Bomb

        by Nick Flynn (January 24, 2008):

        “Now it is a thirty-year-old student, telling of being picked up in a sweep — beaten and shackled and hooded and thrown from Humvee to helicopter, to eventually arrive at a building he now believes is near the airport, either in Mosul or Baghdad. Once inside he finds himself in a large room, maybe the size of a gymnasium, filled with black boxes lined up in rows. Maybe a hundred boxes, maybe two hundred, hard for him to say — he was hooded constantly and quickly lost track of night and day. The boxes are about two and a half feet wide, six feet long. He is thrown into one of these boxes, for days that turn into weeks, unable to straighten his body, barely able to breathe. Every twenty or thirty minutes a soldier kicks the box, or hits it hard with a club, and it makes his shackled body jump. Around him he can hear the screams and pleadings of his fellow prisoners — those with stomach pains, those with infections, those slowly going mad. Among themselves the Iraqis call these boxes tawabeet aswada, or nash aswada — “black coffins.”

        Multiple accounts of this stuff, from unrelated subjects, in multiple locations, with the majority of subjects incarcerated randomly with no evidence.

        Parsed further, the legal memorandums ignored most pertinent precedents which unambiguously dictated conclusions contary to Yoo’s pulled-out-of-his-ass “guidelines”.

        Unbelievable… abhorrent.

        Through Bush years, I’ve gotten well tempered to remaining purposeful and distant from the multitude of sheer horror of depravity, again and again, these guys perpetrated. But this stuff, the explicit details of this torture stuff… all swept under the rug, entirely ignored by Obama himself, given cover by his DOJ and Attorney General, while Yoo and crew have been everywhere pounding their chest over “exhoneration” (which did not happen)…

        I don’t know, this one’s knocked me off stride. And the whole episode, largely ignored and out of view from the US public.

        All this stuff: torture as national policy, uncorrectable inertia continuing it, the massive financial malfeasance, the lies about what we’ve done in ME, the deliberate dismantling of US institutions long functioning to prevent this crap on multiple fronts (SEC/HHS/FED/TRESURY/DOJ…) in order to facilitate a raping of America…

        And Obama has done… nothing. Ab-so-lute-ly nothing.

        AFAIC, he’s worthless in the capacity of his job, and he’s a liar.

        I have no use for him whatsoever.

  27. pangloss

    It really doesn’t matter who killed all prospect of reform because voters will be inflicting collective punishment.

  28. Nancy

    The New Republic article linked by Tim Coldwell starts out with one of the most enduring of the Rahm myths, i.e., that he was responsible for the wins in the midterms that were actually engineered by Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy. Rahm is all triangulation and swing state nonsense. He is constitutionally incapable of building a real grass roots organization as Howard Dean did. For Rahm it’s always smoke and mirrors and ‘leverage’ and never, ever real hard work reaching out to real hard working people.

    1. Richard Kline

      Yeah, Rahm in 06; what a canard. Rahm’s handpicked, massively funded, right-leaning triangulator slate _GOT SLAUGHTERED_. Seriously: Democrats _lost_ net seats out of his strategy. The Party gained considerably in the 06 mid-terms exactly because of Dean. Emanuel was a failure. As I said, the Senate loss this last November was a complete copy of everything Emanuel has tried at and failed at spectactularly boy in 06 _and_ in 04—yet he still gets himself declared ‘a success’ by stone shills in the media. Which only shows us how bought and sold the media is on the Nude Democrat agenda. Dean wins; not a story; not even history. Rahm loses; now we hear how much we all owe him for his ‘winning record.’ At what: buying lies? There, he’s a winner.

  29. Martin

    Suppose we just had to deal with the Obama White House and the democratic controlled House? All of the things that Obama said he would do would (probably) be done.

    Please consider Nate Silver’s post on the FDR and LBJ majorities compared the current ones: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/03/obamas-no-fdr-nor-does-he-have-fdrs.html

    We have very serious procedural problems in the Senate. These discussions of the “failure” of the Obama administration should not take place without at least a nod in that direction.

  30. Cynthia

    And when Gen. McChrystal demanded last year that 40,000 troops be sent to Afghanistan or we’re gonna lose the war, Obama should have fired him on the spot for the crassest insubordination, just the way Truman fired MacArthur. But Obama didn’t. In fact, he caved in to McChrystal’s demands. This is more proof that we’ve go a wuss of a president on our hands, who lacks the gumption to stand up to the Pentagon and the National Security Complex. This is also proof that it is the war establishment that is making foreign policy, not the president.

  31. Pat Walker

    Dear Yves,

    I have become an avid reader, both appreciative of your insights.

    In particular, your command of the English language is able to paint a crystalline clear perspective that very few writers are able to impart.

    Forgive me, I am not trying to sound sanctimonious, but the phrase “rip him new asshole” really just doesn’t seem to fit the brilliance of the writer and perhaps appears unnecessarily to be courting some of the readers of this blog.

    Sincerely Yours,

  32. Pat Walker

    By the way, assuming that BO is nothing more than a puppet on a string, (Tough to imagine since Michelle has both the brains and the testosterone of the family and given her background, is not easily manipulated) …

    How will our Iranian, NK and Chinese friends interpret this?

    How will the Joint Chiefs of Staff perceive this?

    Odds of “Seven Days in May” anyone?

  33. Freemon Sandalwould

    Poor Dalai Bama not getting the worshiping you think he deserves? ha!

    No skill 1 termer well that’s no surprise.

  34. Mario

    I never swallowed the lie that Obama was progressive or “left-leaning.” I always saw him as a closet right-wing Republican. My friends hated me for saying it but I told them, wait and you shall see. It turned out I was basically correct; as I see it, his presidency has been a process of his gradually coming out of the closet on every front. This is good — so all the people from all walks of life (not only in the U.S. but worldwide) who projected (and still project) on him the image of a great savior (from their own individualistic and extremely limited perspectives) can witness and experience the truth of who Obama really is, and see their own ridiculous illusions exposed as well. The mass disappointment caused by Obama is a fantastic teacher for the world.

    1. Greg

      I think there’s a lot of truth to that, Mario.

      The simple answer is that Barack is the sort of fellow who would have been a Republican, had the Republicans not merged with the frothing-at-the-mouth racists of the Dixiecrats.

      Just like Rahm would have been a Republican, had the latter not signed a pact with America’s fundamentalist Protestants.

      Their backgrounds and personal inclinations make them wonderful candidates for the GOP, except for the fact that the GOP is, well, insane.

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