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Rahm heckled on way out

Updated 12:02 p.m.

It was kind of touching that Rahm choked up, wiping away a tear as he discussed his parents. But you wonder why Obama made such a big deal of the sendoff--four bear hugs between them--even as they heaped praise on each other. And not a syllable from the new guy, Pete Rouse?

Short answer: This was Rahm's opening salvo in his mayoral campaign, and the president was happy to play along.

I knew that Rahm was absolutely, positively packing for Chicago when the anonymous trashing began.

I had no inside source telling me that Emanuel would end his tenure as chief of staff at week's end. But I know the devious ways of the Beltway.

With Rahm ensconced at Obama's side, no one wanted to cross him, at least in the press. They might get a dead fish in the mail or something.

But when the guy is heading to a local campaign, all the accumulated resentments and frustrations bubble to the surface--aided and abetted by journalists willing to publish anonymous quotes.

As Time reports: "'He's the boss that is going to value you more if you do a memo and put your colleague's name on it,' the adviser continued, describing Rouse's style. 'You will never read in a million years a Dana Milbank column that says the president should have listened more to Pete Rouse.'"

What people fail to grasp when they evaluate a White House chief of staff is that the guy is there to do the president's bidding, and that often means serving as enforcer, arm-twister and access-blocker. He's the designated bad cop.

Rahm seemed larger than life because he is an expletive-spewing perpetual motion machine. Not only that, he was a high-powered spinmeister, spending hours on the phone or at dinners with journalists, on and off the record. He was good copy. And that made him seem like he was running the show.

In truth, he was still staff, just as he had been in the Clinton White House. That's why he's running for mayor. He wants to actually run the show, to preside over his own staff.

He was always too pragmatic for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, but he wasn't elected to devise a health care plan. He was appointed to help his president pass a health care plan.
This Financial Times story lays out the indictment:

"Mr Emanuel is the target of three types of criticism. First, he is said to be obsessed with the 24-hour news cycle, taking his eye off longer-term goals. 'Rahm cannot keep his thoughts focused for more than 10 minutes,' said a former official. 'If he spent as much time planning strategy as he does trying to win the news cycle then things might have gone differently.'
Second, detractors say that Mr Emanuel...misread the obstructionist mood of the Republican party on Capitol Hill. Time and again on the healthcare debate, cap-and-trade and the $787bn stimulus, Mr Emanuel led the White House negotiations with Republican legislators.

"In almost every case Mr Emanuel recommended concessions to the Republicans that achieved no support when push came to vote. The one exception was over the 2009 stimulus bill, which pulled in three Republican votes in the Senate. The net result was to signal that the White House had few red lines."

But again, that's what the post-partisan president wanted.

The Rahm defense: "Let's be honest," he told The New York Times, "the goal isn't to see whether I can pass this through the executive board of the Brookings Institution [a leading think-tank]. I'm passing it through the United States Congress."

"Also in his defence, healthcare was enacted."


The NYT looks at his interim replacement, Pete Rouse:

"The choice of Mr. Rouse to run the West Wing now could not be more different from the one Mr. Obama made shortly after his election to appoint Mr. Emanuel. Mr. Rouse is an introvert who shies away from reporters, and he has rarely -- if ever -- appeared on television.

"Mr. Emanuel, by contrast, has been an outsized presence in the White House since Mr. Obama's first days in office."

Practically an understatement.

Politico picks up on preemptive grumbling:

"Some Democrats - particularly on the left -- fret that President Barack Obama's decision to pick an insider, even temporarily, sends a worrying signal that he's not prepared to confront his team's problems on everything from messaging to policy to style.

"'They're too disconnected from the grassroots and members of the House close to the grassroots. If they don't change, we'll probably be stuck in the same situation in two years and then they'll be on the ballot,' said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), one member who has been pointedly critical of Emanuel's performance in his 22 months as Obama's top aide.

"Some, like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), even say Obama should look outside politics to the world of business to replace Emanuel permanently. To Clyburn, Obama has too many aides and advisors who have never worked in the 'real world.'"

The left is largely happy. "Rahm's exit is a good thing for Obama and a necessary first step in the much-needed shakeup of his White House," says the Nation's Ari Berman. "Rahm alone wasn't solely responsible for diluting Obama's unique outsider brand, but he was a major contributing factor. After all, throughout his career in politics, Rahm has been at odds with the very grassroots activists who propelled Obama to the White House and made his campaign so unique.

"That pattern continued when Rahm became chief of staff and purposely demobilized and insulted Obama's ground troops...

"Rahm's turbulent tenure in Washington has proven that traditional inside-the-Beltway experience can be overrated, particularly when your boss was supposed to personify the dawn of a new political era."

True. But anyone who remembers the tenure of Hamilton Jordan or Mack McLarty knows that lack of Washington experience can also be crippling.

Now all the political reporters will cover Rahm's race for mayor, but will lose interest if he wins. We don't do governing very well.

By Howard Kurtz  | October 1, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Latest stories, Top story  | Tags:  Obama, Pete Rouse, Rahm Emanuel, White House, anonymous sources, chief of staff  
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While Jim Clyburn's complaint that Obama has too few staff with "real world" experience, I see the president's main drawback as the fact that he came to the White House with too little Washington experience (and a relatively brief legislative tenure before that): He was a half-term U.S. senator who spent three-quarters of that time running for president: Not a whole lot left over for mastering the art of the deal, especially not in the "clubby" Senate.

This requires him to have staff who can effectively navigate the Hill and, perhaps most importantly in the light of the scorched-earth approach of the Republicans and Teatards, do so a bit more diplomatically and artfully than "Rahmbo."

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | October 1, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Rahm is smart...he is leaving at the top of his game. He won't be in D.C. in November for the blood bath in the elections.

Posted by: wollefs | October 2, 2010 5:31 AM | Report abuse

Go back to your old Media Notes column format. You fixed a thing that wasn't broken. Please.

Posted by: K3vinFitz | October 3, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

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