The chief of staff of change
The Obama campaign was about poetry. It was the pretty rhetoric of hope and change. The Obama administration has been, to the surprise of many of its supporters, entirely about prose. It's been about the thousands of pages of legal language that tell the government what's changing. And no one represented that shift better than Rahm Emanuel.
Rahm Emanuel is not post-partisan. He is not of the new politics. When Obama asked, in 2004, “do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope,” you imagine that Emanuel shook his head and laughed. Politics is a cynical business. And he understood it. Reveled in it, in fact. Remember that whole fish thing?
And so, it turned out, did Barack Obama. The Cossack worked for the Czar. After a campaign that was all about hope and change and a united America and a different style of politics, Obama looked outside his campaign team and entrusted his new administration to the Washington Democrat considered the most ruthlessly efficient practitioner of the old politics. The time had come to set aside childish things. The ugly slog of change, and not the soaring rhetoric of hope, came to define the administration.
And it was an ugly slog. The stimulus was too small, and got shaved down further in an 11th-hour deal with Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. The health-care bill compromised with the insurance, drug, hospital, small business, big business, doctor, and nurse lobbies -- and then a couple more industries for good measure. Financial regulation, well, even the banks are mostly okay with it.
But there was little precedent for a non-war stimulus of even the size we got, and the Obama administration worked assiduously to accomplish dozens of long-term objectives within the legislation. The health-care bill is going to bring the country from 85 percent coverage to more than 95 percent -- aside from Medicare and Medicaid, no previous expansion of coverage even comes close. Financial regulation was more of a disappointment, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a huge step forward. And the president for better or worse, has managed to keep his campaign promises on the two wars, drawing Iraq down and ramping Afghanistan up.
There have been disappointments, too. Civil liberties is probably the biggest. Cap-and-trade looks dead, though the administration is likely to regulate carbon through the EPA. The administration hasn't been able to sustain its popularity amidst the slow economic recovery, and it didn't do nearly enough to push the Federal Reserve to fulfill its mission of promoting full employment.
But all in all, the crisis didn't go to waste. The period of change, however, is over, at least for a while. The next year or two will be defense and implementation. That's not Emanuel's specialty, and so his exit is fitting. But in the end, it may not mean that much. The same president who chose Emanuel and made the decisions that Emanuel carried out will also choose his successor and make the calls that he or she implements. The Cossack may change, but he still works for the Czar.
Photo credit: White House
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