Monday, November 17, 2008

Rahm Emanuel, A Chief Mistake

Ugh. So much media coverage of the campaign trail, and now we get nothing. Who can a fella call to get some help around here? Well it turns out that once again a fella has to do a lot of his own research. Alright alright. I've been curious about this guy Rahm Emanuel. He seems a little spooky.

Immediately after the victory two weeks ago (over which I was thrilled, I should add), Obama picked this Rahm Emanuel guy to serve as Chief of Staff. The look in Emanuel's eye really caught me off guard. Class A villainy, I thought I saw. But then, I am the cynical type. Paranoid at times, too. Like to see things that aren't there. So just to check my head I dove in to my trusty internet connection.

But first I had to find out what exactly a Chief of Staff does.

It says here that he's the John Spencer character from the first 5 seasons of The West Wing. (The actor, not the singer. Though that would be pretty cool to see.) He's the one who performed a heart attack on the show not long before his actual death. But if you aren't a fan (sad), I can give you a bit more info.

The Chief of Staff is the person who sets the President's agenda. His opinion is one of the first the Boss Man hears. He decides who gets seen and when. In short, he is The Gatekeeper. Rick Moranis, by extension, is The Keymaster. And I'm thinking Bill Murray should be Secretary of State. Anyone with me?

So now that we have that, let's look at Rahm Emanuel himself. I'm thinking that whatever we find out will be extra useful, because unlike the choice of running mate, Chief of Staff calls for very little public scrutiny. Once a person actually wins an election, it could be said that the time of token gestures is over. This isn't like putting on a flag pin, dumping an old family friend, or, well, picking Joe Biden. If this is the guy Obama names, then we can assume that he means it.

Rahm Emanuel, called “Rahm-Bo” by some, is a long-time Chicago politician. No surprise there. So is Obama. From 1993 to 1998 he was a senior advisor to Bill Clinton. So he's certainly been around. Since 2003 until last week he served the 5th District of Illinois as a member of the House of Representatives. During that time he did a stint as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman during the 2006 congressional elections. That's like the Howard Dean of House politics. It's up to the person in that position to make sure Democratic candidates are getting the money and influence they need in order to win their districts. This sounds boring right now, but it gets interesting.

So in short, Emanuel has spent his entire adult life in public service. The guy is only 43, after all. He's been called the Democrat's Karl Rove by some. His ability to raise money for the Democratic party is freakish. He's got a rare gift. The media likes to mention how he has been known for showy displays like ripping up campaign contributions if the money is deemed too little. He's accused of having “razor-sharp elbows” and playing “hardball”. Every article you read about him mentions the dead fish he sent to a former Washington co-worker.

Sounds like a fun guy, actually. I generally take my politics with a lot of vinegar. But then, the more I dig, the more I start to notice some disturbing details. The greatest example is that he used his trademark abrasiveness in early and outspoken support of GWBush's War in Iraq. W-What, says I? That doesn't seem right. But it's true. Now, granted, he was not yet sworn to office in October 2002. That was when the war resolution was voted on by Congress. But he said he would have voted for it if he had been able. The trouble goes on from there, but first, a little “foreign affairs” background.

See, a president can't go to war unless both the House and the Senate say it's ok. In this case, Bush scored big with 3/4 of both legs of Congress granting him the right to go to war when he wants, where he wants, and against who the heck ever. And he can do it without any other countries agreeing with the premises. It's called the Bush Doctrine, and chances are 3 out 4 that you can thank one of your local representatives for making it happen.

Anyway, like I said, Emanuel was all for the war. He was the type of politician who labeled Bush's critics as “Unamerican”. And there were a lot of critics, even in those early days.

Bush started the attack right after the UN had reported a complete lack of WMD in Iraq. Furthermore, the CIA warned of untenable repercussions, an increase in regional instability, and larger numbers of terrorist recruits. Just like what we've seen. Well Bush launched the invasion anyway, before the media could get a grip on these stories. But Congress sure knew about this stuff, and at any time they could have removed their authorization and ended the war by simply cutting off the funding. That's what a lot (but not enough) Representatives wanted to do. But too many people liked the war. And they wanted to shut up the people who didn't.

In session, Emanuel told his colleagues about what he saw working for Bill Clinton during the 1999 bombing raid on Kosovo. Rahm said, “I knew firsthand what a solitary and difficult decision it is for a President to send our Armed Forces into harm’s way. I will remember some of the members of this body, in the midst of conflict, attacking the President—the commander-in-chief—even as he worked day-and-night to complete that mission and bring our servicemen and women home safely. It was wrong then. It would be wrong now. I, for one, will not do that to our President…to our commander-in-chief.”

And how generous he is for that! Think of it, sparing the president any and all misgivings during such a moment of his precious life. Seriously? When is the President's ability to sleep well more important than the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives? But as much as I hate to do it, I want to give this guy one last chance to redeem himself. Can we find out exactly why Emanuel would have said this? Maybe he really truly believed the lies being propagated by the administration. So I keep looking.

First of all, let's answer why Congress doesn't end this war. Remember, they have the power of the purse. Canceling funding of the war would be the quickest way to end it. Now, some members of the Right, and too many of the Left, like to portray this option as a betrayal of our troops. They make it sound like we would literally leave American soldiers on the ground to fend for themselves. “Sorry Jack. Uncle Sam ran out of money and it's every man for himself now. I'm going to have to take your firearm, son. Watch out for scorpions!”

But of course the American public isn't fooled by this sort of argument. As it turns out, ever since June of 2004, a majority of Americans have thought Iraq was a mistake, and one way or another, they have wanted out. (I found some great polling resources.) But Emanuel didn't WANT the war to end. He knew that it could pay off big for the Democrats. I know that I'm verging on overly cynical here, but the story comes up in a lot of different interviews. Emanuel makes his strategy very clear.

With the public being bitter about the war, Emanuel, as chair of the DCC chose to use Bush's military campaign against him. By making Iraq the number one issue in 2006, Emanuel was able to engineer a huge victory for the Democrats. He replaced 30 republicans in The House that year. And what's more scandalous is that he even admitted how grateful he was that Bush hadn't fired Rumsfield before the election season. The Secretary of Defense became Emanuel's poster boy for Republican incompetence during the campaign. (Deservedly so, yes, but that's not the point.) As long as Congress stayed out of the war, it was obvious that Iraq would reach no immediate conclusion. Emanuel began laying plans to use it as his key to winning the White House in 2008.

So let's compare it like this. Pretend that Emanuel is an elected official who is responsible for public safety. (I know it's a stretch, but we're just playing make-believe.) Now imagine that he's standing right next to the shut-off valve of a leaking gas line. It just so happens that the gas line is running into an apartment building bursting with poor families. If he waits long enough then a whole lot of people could get sick, pass out, knock their heads on the sink, whatever. This would be bad, yes. But if—God forbid—that did happen, one could turn the situation into a huge lawsuit against the contractor who did the original plumbing. Right? And that would be, like, profitable. Right?

Well, that's what he did. And it worked. Hell, if Emanuel could have arranged the collapse of the economy, just in time for this last election, he would have probably done that, too. Of course, one could argue that the war, having cost over 600 billion dollars so far, did that for him. (But wait a second, you say. Isn't the financial crisis caused by all those homes the poor people bought? Don't bet on it. 50% of all bankruptcies continue to be caused by unforeseen medical bills. Don't believe the hype, and don't listen to anyone who blames the American public for this economic downturn. That is the first sign of someone who is feeding you leather and calling it jerky.)

Anyway, we´ll call that the end of my campfire story about Rahm-Bo. I can see I'm starting to wander off track here. There are certainly other tales to be told about the man. But I'll save them for another time. That is, of course, assuming there is another time. I could always get a gas leak and not know it. I could start feeling light headed and begin hallucinating. I'll let you know next time, assuming Bill Murray ever shows up and gets this damn paranormal disturbance out of my apartment. I've been waiting for hours now.