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What will become of Emanuelism?


Brad DeLong reports on his conversations with people who work with Rahm Emanuel:

For what it's worth, I haven't heard complaints about Rahm Emanuel from anybody: smart, energetic, highly effective, reality-based. If there is a flaw, it is that he would rather choose a strategy that produces a 90% chance of a mediocre bill than a 70% chance of a really good bill, but that rests on his view of Congress as a collection of herd animals -- and may well be correct.

I think this is an accurate critique, and one piece of it is that Emanuelism made more sense when Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate than 59, much less however many votes Democrats have after the 2010 election. It made a lot more sense, in other words, when legislative accomplishments were more possible. But the likely outcome of the 2010 election -- a narrowed Democratic majority with an enlarged, energized Republican minority -- won't allow for much in the way of legislative accomplishments. What Emanuelism becomes when even mediocre bills don't have a chance is anybody's guess.

Photo credit: By Pete Souza/White House

By Ezra Klein  |  February 23, 2010; 3:40 PM ET
Categories:  Obama administration  
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So the American people gave the Dems two historic wins, and all we got were a bunch of continued Bush policies and moderate Republican proposals (tax cuts, handouts to companies, etc).

And they'll wonder why no one will donate and no one will bother going to the polls.

Posted by: AZProgressive | February 23, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

"What Emanuelism becomes when even mediocre bills don't have a chance is anybody's guess."

Well, the health care bills were mediocre, at best.

Posted by: Lomillialor | February 23, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Emanuel has always been about fear: first, the fear that being too ambitious will come back to bite him (his DCCC strategy was to just pick a few select House races that he thought he could win), combined with making everyone else fear the consequences if they don't get behind his fear-motivate roadmaps. I think the idea is that if feels that if he has to be afraid, everyone else on his side should be, too.

Posted by: constans | February 23, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Before Obama I had never given to a political candidate. But I gave to Obama, and I caucused for him and voted in a primary for him (Texas) and voted in the general election for him. Why? Not because I thought he was some super liberal, I didn't. The Republicans called Obama the Senate's most liberal senator, but that is what they said about Kerry too. No, I voted for him because I thought he was a pragmatic intellectual. Guess what, I was right.

Sure, I'd love a public option, or better yet Medicare Part E, but it is not possible. During the Bush years many of us mocked the Bush administration for not being "Reality Based." That mockery was deserved, but don't we now have an obligation to acknowledge reality as it is and work within reality to make reality better? Pretending that Obama can get whatever he wants (public option, cap and trade, etc) if only he is willing to fight for it only endangers what can be done in reality. If Obama goes picking fights he can’t win and drawing lines in the sand all he will accomplish is a lessening of the things that can be accomplished.

Tilting at windmills may be fun, but it doesn’t accomplish much..

Posted by: nisleib | February 23, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

This makes it sound like choosing the 90% probability mediocre bill over the 70% probability really good bill is a minor failing.

But that is the heart of political complaint about Emanuel. His desire to have a certain win means that the White House has, and will always have, only the slightest of accomplishments to show for itself.

Maybe if you're only playing once and are risk-averse, it makes sense to take the sure-thing mediocrity. But if you're in it for the long haul, taking a series of 70% gambles on some really good bills will produce a much better long-term outcome. Unless, that is, either a) you value more the sheer number of wins, or b) you actually prefer mediocre (ie, moderate) bills more. I suspect both are the case with Emanuel.

Posted by: Ulium | February 23, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

So, the plan was to totally frustrate your base and hope for a few minor accomplishments before losing your shirt in the next election? Great! It may help his resume or something, I guess.

People want to see Dems fighting for them, and against the people they keep giving 'deals' to. The only deal I didn't mind was with labor, who fought hard for everybody -- then got a 'last best offer' to save only themselves. I don't blame labor for this. At least they are fighting for working people, not the right to gouge people via the health industry.

I do blame the admin for being stubbornly for a provison that no one liked (taxing benefits - to save money), while being stubbornly weak on a provision everyone liked (public option - that was to save money). It is very difficult to not feel like AHIP's priorities were not put ahead of average folk's priorities on this bill. Very, very difficult.

Maybe that strategy is just recognizing how corrupt our political system (congress) has become, but it's still very difficult to swallow.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | February 23, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

nisleib, I voted for Obama even though he was a centrist, because I thought he was orders of magnitude better than the alternative, which I still believe, given McCain's erratic statements and behavior. Still, if Obama is so afraid of losing that he doesn't challenge the repiglicans and conservadems to vote against popular proposals, like a robust public option, he ends of bargaining with himself before beginning to bargain with the opposition. This is one of the reasons why the stimulus is so woefully inadequate to the employment crisis we have now. I don't want Obama to constantly tilt as windmills, but tilting at 1 or 2 windmills shows that he has the guts to reach for more than he can easily grasp. The audacity of hope and all that.

Posted by: srw3 | February 23, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Emanuel didn't have to choose between a really good bill and a mediocre bill. What he had was a really bad bill and an even worse one. Looks to me like he's mainly trying to keep the herd from pooping on his boss.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 23, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what Emanuelism has accomplished, other than blowing a once-in-a-lifetime. I'd take mediocre legislation if I thought there was a so-called 90% chance of achieving it -- right now it looks like there's a 0% chance of ANY legislation.

He's been incredibly effective at positioning the nihilist, mindless GOP for historic gains. Just ask Nate Silver. And that's about it.

Posted by: scarlota | February 23, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

"But the likely outcome of the 2010 election -- a narrowed Democratic majority with an enlarged, energized Republican minority"

You really think that's the most likely outcome, based on reading the tea leaves? At best, I think the Democrats can look forward to a severely narrowed majority, or possibly being in a narrow minority, at least in the house and maybe even in the Senate.

Unless they (a) get some stuff done and (b) the economy improves. I think the days of getting voters to invest for the long haul, and keep voting for the guy who is doing the repair work, even if there are no results as such, are over. FDR would have been voted out after his first term, today.

So, I suspect the Democrats face dismal prospects for the immediate future. However, I live in Tennessee--a decidedly red state--so my view on the matter may be skewed.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 23, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

srw3 - I would agree that Obama needs to challenge his opponents (we don't need to call them names, we can be better than that) but do you really think health care is the area he should do it in? I don't. For almost a 100 years Dems have been trying to reform the US health care system. Playing games with it, especially at this point in the process, would be unwise.

I have faith that Obama will pick fights with his opponents, but I tend to think they will be well thought out fights that don't harm huge legislative efforts like health care reform. And probably the timing will be arrainged so that it has a positive effect on the mid-term elections.

I think about the primary season and how everyone knew exactly what Obama should do, how he had to fight, or hit back or do whatever thing those on the left were saying he had to do. I remember the outrage on the left that Obama wasn't doing these things, and I remember Obama being right.

As was shown all through the election and most recently at the Republican House Retreat there is one truth that those of us who want Obama to succeed yet are frustrated by the pace need to remember: Obama is smarter than his opponents, even when WE are his opponents.

Posted by: nisleib | February 23, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Whoops, arraigned should be arranged.

Posted by: nisleib | February 23, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't Emanuelism deserve a good bit of the blame for the Dems' popularity decline in the first place? I too voted for Obama in the Texas Democratic primary - but I can't help but feel like we got a Hillary presidency anyway.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | February 23, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Tim - I tend to think that Emmanuelism may be responsible for the decline of Obama support amongst the most progressive Americans, but I doubt it was a huge factor amongst the rest of the populace.

I'd say the biggest factor related to the decline in support amongst the US population as a whole was the economy/job situation. You can make a case that Emmanuelism led to a less robust stimulus package, which didn't help the economy as much as it could have and I'd buy that. But the economy was never going to turn around in two years, no matter how big it was.

Posted by: nisleib | February 23, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

If there is a *flaw* in Emanuelism, it is playing the "inside game":

"Obama At Year One: The End of the Inside Game"
By Ezra Klein | January 20, 2010; 10:10 AM ET

Posted by: msa_intp | February 23, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

"But the likely outcome of the 2010 election -- a narrowed Democratic majority with an enlarged, energized Republican minority ..."

Gridlock! Oh, happy day! The '90s return!

Posted by: ostap666 | February 23, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

"FDR would have been voted out after his first term, today."

Nonsense. He actually accomplished things and fought for voters in his first term. Read about his first 100 days.

"I remember the outrage on the left that Obama wasn't doing these things, and I remember Obama being right."

I will grant that Obama knows a lot more about getting elected than any of us. Does he know about governing? I wish I had as much belief in that.

Posted by: toweypat | February 23, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

"It made a lot more sense, in other words, when legislative accomplishments were more possible."

Huh? The better your chances of accomplishing something, the lower you should aim? That doesn't make much sense to me.

Besides that, what Emanuelism has gotten us (aside from being called "retards") are bills that are too small to accomplish their stated goals yet catch as much flak as larger initiatives would. A modest stimulus which contains too many tax cuts gets called big government liberalism. A no-strings-attached bailout of General Motors gets called a Castroesque nationalization. Mitt Romney's health care reform plan is death panels, etc etc etc.

Then there is the fact that modest aims have soured the public on Obama's administration and jeopardized his chances to do anything, mediocre or otherwise, after the mid-terms.

There is more, much more, to be said about Obama's failures: if Congress is just a big herd, how did Max Baucus and Bart Stupak get to run roughshod over HCR? Why couldn't Obama fight half as hard for a public option as he did for escalation in Afghanistan? Ben Bernanke? But if Emanuelism costs Democrats control of Congress, it would be nice if Obama jettisoned it. I won't hold my breath.

Posted by: toweypat | February 23, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I would need to see some documentation on that "highly effective" claim. Certainly his record at the DCCC was a disaster, and his hand-pick for the DNC isn't doing very well so far.


Posted by: sphealey | February 23, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Someone needs to explain to me the difference between Emanuelism and Dick Morrisism. Because losing the Congress is looking more like a feature and less like a bug.

Posted by: callingalltoasters | February 23, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Emanuelism will mean what it meant after 1994 in the Clinton Administration: completely collaboration with the right, with the President touting such right-wing "victories" as Welfare Reform, NAFTA, and the Defense of Marriage Act. Look for Emanuelism to endorse the rounding up and deporting of all undocumented aliens, more "free trade" deals, GOP tax "reform" that favors the rich, and steps toward privatizing social security. This is where Emanuelism leads: complete capitulation, collaboration, and sell-out.

Posted by: uh_huhh | February 24, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

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