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The Rouse era won't be better than the Rahm era

Adam Serwer is a staff writer with The American Prospect, where he writes his own blog.

Count me among those who were critical of Rahm Emanuel's tenure as White House Chief of Staff. I found his willingness to compromise with Republicans on key civil liberties issues, like trading a preventive detention law or a civilian trial for the alleged 9/11 conspirators for closing Gitmo, deeply frustrating. Likewise, the idea of breaking down the Affordable Care Act into smaller bills that would face a new Republican filibuster each time seemed like folly to me. For all his reputation as tough, partisan enforcer, it seemed like liberals were the only people Emanuel was eager to get tough with. That said, I don't think his departure will change what has disappointed liberals about the Obama administration. 

There are some indications that Emanuel's replacement, Pete Rouse, is more to the left than Emanuel. Ezra Klein flagged a 2008 interview Rouse did with PBS, in which he hits the centrist DLC for its willingness to "find the lowest common denominator and pass it," rather than "moving forward with a progressive agenda."

But as my colleague Tim Fernholz points out, many of the things liberals disliked about Emanuel's tenure -- too deferential to Republicans, not enough partisan fist shaking, a tendency to cede key progressive priorities in order to get legislation passed -- are actually more reflections of Emanuel's boss, President Obama, than they are of Emanuel himself. They're also a reflection of real political circumstances -- while there's no question that Obama has completely reversed himself on his promises to roll back Bush-era national security policies, the choke point for most progressive legislation has been the Senate, not the House majority Emanuel helped assemble with a roster of "Conservadems." Regardless, much of the liberal frustration with Emanuel would have been more appropriately directed at the man in the Oval Office.

If anything, the coming era is going to be one of more painful compromises on liberal priorities. Even if Democrats hold the House and the Senate, their majority in both houses is likely to be severely narrowed, if not erased entirely. Republicans lack an agenda beyond fishing for potential scandals, and despite the fact that Americans don't like them very much, the GOP will portray a takeover as an ideological mandate to prevent the Obama administration from accomplishing anything else on its agenda.

As much as liberals disliked Emanuel, his time in the White House will likely be remembered as the more successful and progressive part of Obama's first four years in office.

By Adam Serwer  | October 1, 2010; 10:46 AM ET
Categories:  Miscellaneous  
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Next: Will tomorrow's One Nation rally show enthusiasm gap closing? Will media care?

Comments

"If anything, the coming era is going to be one of more painful compromises on liberal priorities. Even if Democrats hold the House and the Senate, their majority in both houses is likely to be severely narrowed, if not erased entirely. ... As much as liberals disliked Emanuel, his time in the White House will likely be remembered as the more successful and progressive part of Obama's first four years in office."

The first 2 years were critical and Obama and the Democrats blew it. They proved unable to govern effectively and hostile to Liberals and Liberal causes. And now the Democratic Party is poised to move even further Right. The real question is whether Liberals will continue to support the Democratic Party or look for an alternative, either by organizing independently of the Dem Party, moving to the Greens, or simply by withholding support in this and near-future elections.

Posted by: wbgonne | October 1, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

We can only hope.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 1, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I personally do not think that anything is going to be accomplished in the next 2 years except perhaps a rewriting of the tax laws and possibly something on education.

Hoping during the lameduck that a deal is struck whereby DADT is repealed, the DREAM act is passed, and I suspect the tax cuts for the rich will extend for one to two years.

After that I see nothing else happening. I suspect Obama will focus on deficit reduction and education the next 2 years.

Posted by: maritza1 | October 1, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

@maritza: "I suspect Obama will focus on deficit reduction and education the next 2 years."

That's interesting that you "suspect" what Obama might pursue - do any of us know *what* the Obama agenda is for the next two years? Is Obama asking folks to vote for Dems when they don't know what agenda the Dems will be pursuing?

Posted by: sbj3 | October 1, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Another great post by Adam, BTW.

Posted by: sbj3 | October 1, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

The good news is, we can all finally go back to being victims. Whew. Glad that's over. I really don't know how Republicans stand the pressure of actually getting big parts of what they want so much of the time, but I for one will be happy to get back to just wishing -- unlike the things one can actually achieve, there's never any limit on what you can wish for.

Posted by: CalD | October 1, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I suspect Obama's first two years will be judged almost entirely on HCR. If people get more health care and less insurance industry abuse, then that will probably be remembered as both his most successful and his most progressive act. If, on the other hand, it turns out the government has become a willing accomplice of the insurance industry screwing you over (as HAMP did for banks, for instance) then not so much.

The reality will probably be a bit of both, the perception is still TBD, I think.

Posted by: Bullsmith1 | October 1, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

sbj -- agreed, Adam is a major addition around here.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | October 1, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

"while there's no question that Obama has completely reversed himself on his promises to roll back Bush-era national security policies"

Yup. That's when I concluded that he was, in fact, serious about national security and even the War on Terrorism (even if he doesn't use the term). His administration's prosecution of the war via targeted drone attacks on high value Al Qaeda targets makes me wonder if just half that Afghanistan and Iraq money had been put into ground intelligence and drone support taking out Al Qaeda everywhere, rather than deposing Saddam, where we might be. In any case, I think the Obama admin actually has the preferable, better strategy regarding dealing with the threat of terrorism in the modern world.

His decision not to roll back some of the Bush admin's non-preemptive-war policies just indicates to me that the Obama administration is serious about keeping the country safe. Apparently, the "professional left" considers this a negative.

But I think Obama will actually come out pretty well in the history books, no matter how reviled he is now, by Tea Partiers and the "professional left" alike. In part because he is governing like a serious adult, and not using the office of the president to satisfy the whims and wishes of every far left special interest.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | October 1, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Greg's point about Howard Dean is really important.


Rahm started off dissing Howard Dean - and that could mean a great deal with the problems with the left right now.


Instead of starting the administration off fresh - and inclusive, Obama DECIDED to back up Rahm in the disputes with Howard Dean.


(NOT for nothing, in the dispute of whether to have a 50-state strategy, Obama and his campaign probably BENEFITTED SIGNIFICANTLY from Dean's efforts. So Howard Dean deserves a great deal of credit for helping Obama's campaign in the primaries.)


However, after the election, we con't have Obama the leader, settling this issue and getting people to work together.

INSTEAD, Obama is backing Rahm in dissing Howard Dean.


That is not a good idea for a new administration - and I wonder what Fire Dog Lake's connections to Howard Dean are.


Also WHAT did Obama expect Howard Dean to do next? Did Obama expect Howard Dean to go back to Vermont?


This was a mistake on the part of Obama.

.

Posted by: SaveTheRainforest | October 1, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with comprimising with republicans? They represent the views of millions of americans. Are they just supposed to shut up and pay the bill for Obama's agenda without any input? As far as a mandate to stop Obama for the republicans. Hell yeah it's a mandate to stop that guy. The dems passed major healthcare legistlation without even reading the bill. That is going to impact everyone's lives and they didn't even bother to read the bill. The only reason that doesn't bother people like Greg is that he's brainwashed. Democrats good, republicans bad ... duh. As far of the rest of america is concerned that is pure incompetence and it needs to be stopped.

Posted by: peterg73 | October 1, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

When the trolls are the only ones happy with Serwer's post, then you've got a disconnect Greg.

I call BS on this post.

The so-called 'liberal frustration' is not with machinations and compromises, but Obama's failure TO LEAD! We all know what horse trading is in politics, but when you start negoiating with compromise you're going to lose those that believed you came to Washington to change things.

Start with Single Payer and compromise with Public Option is the best example.

Posted by: bmcchgo | October 1, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

All, check this out, SEIU vows at least 75,000 will turn out at tomorroow's liberal rally on the national Mall:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/10/will_tomorrows_one_nation_rall.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | October 1, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

All, check this out, SEIU vows at least 75,000 will turn out at tomorroow's liberal rally on the national Mall:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/10/will_tomorrows_one_nation_rall.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent
==========================================
That event is sponsored by the communist party. It's right in the list of sponsors on the event's webpage if you don't believe me. Greg you won't be one of the priviledged elites if people like that come to power. The journalists are the first ones thrown in prison. Stalin referred to the pro-socialist press in the west as useful idiots for a reason.

Posted by: peterg73 | October 1, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

All, check this out, SEIU vows at least 75,000 will turn out at tomorroow's liberal rally on the national Mall:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/10/will_tomorrows_one_nation_rall.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent
==========================================
That event is sponsored by the communist party. It's right in the list of sponsors on the event's webpage if you don't believe me. Greg you won't be one of the priviledged elites if people like that come to power. The journalists are the first ones thrown in prison. Stalin referred to the pro-socialist press in the west as useful idiots for a reason.

Posted by: peterg73 | October 1, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

peterg73 is a LIAR (of course, since he's a good ol' teabaggger).

The Communist Party is listed, among HUNDREDS of organizations, as "endorsing" this event.

Again, peterg73: LIAR.

See for yourself how this teabaggger lies:

http://action.onenationworkingtogether.org/partners

Posted by: Observer691 | October 1, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Observer691,

How am I a liar? You just admitted that the communist party is a sponsor of the democrat rally this weekend. JFK is probably rolling over in his grave right now. If the commmunist party ever took over in this country, how many millions of americans would they be willing to do away with in order to institute their "perfect society"? 20 million like in China? More? Another sponsor is the democratic socialist party of america by the way. How many sponsors on that list are more careful about how they name their organization and are hiding their true intentions for this country? Instead of lashing out at me as a liar why don't you ask yourself why you can't face the truth?

Posted by: peterg73 | October 1, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Peterg73, you posted a response to Greg Sargent:

"All, check this out, SEIU vows at least 75,000 will turn out at tomorroow's liberal rally on the national Mall:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/10/will_tomorrows_one_nation_rall.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent
==========================================
That event is sponsored by the communist party. It's right in the list of sponsors on the event's webpage if you don't believe me. Greg you won't be one of the priviledged elites if people like that come to power. The journalists are the first ones thrown in prison. Stalin referred to the pro-socialist press in the west as useful idiots for a reason.

Posted by: peterg73 | October 1, 2010 1:22 PM"

Yeah, you're partly right-- the Communist Party USA is one of the groups that ENDORSED (NOT "cosponsor") the rally tomorrow. So are well over 300 more organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Wildlife Federation, the United Mine Workers of America, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the National Urban League, the National Missionary Baptist Church, the United Steel Workers, and the Transport Workers Union of America. Plus, a rather huge number of different churches and organizations ranging across a wide spectrum of causes, some of whom hold positions I agree with, some of whom don't.

ALL of the members of ALL of these groups are Communists???

Concerning your 12:33 p.m. post, which begins "What's wrong with comprimising with republicans? They represent the views of millions of americans," I respond that there's NOTHING wrong with "comprimising," or for that matter, "comprOmising." The trouble is that Republicans all too proudly took on the title "The Party of No" and actually glorified in it. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell essentially said that it was their way, or the highway. I submit that President Obama's views also represent millions of Americans, and in fact MORE millions than McConnell and Boehner represent. As I see it, the President was willing to compromise; Republicans were not.

While my own views are progressive/liberal, I'm pragmatic enough to accept compromise for the sake of getting things done. I am one of the chief election judges in my precinct. You won't find a single person who works in the precinct, or a single voter, who will EVER claim that I am unable or unwilling to work with those who hold opinions different than mine.

Posted by: dcgrasso1 | October 1, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I'd love to see the quotes showing that "...there's no question that Obama has completely reversed himself on his promises to roll back Bush-era national security policies..."

No question? Completely reversed? Promises to roll back? Those are pretty strong words. Can you back them up?

Posted by: converse | October 1, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

dcgrasso1,

Why the communist party being involved in this event tomorrow doesn't concern you I cannot imagine. Communists have enslaved and murdered vast numbers of people around the globe. They are sick and twisted souls. Every communist government is a brutal totalitarian regime. There are no exceptions. Their involvement should be a clear warning to every democrat that your party is in serious danger, you are definiately being manipulated, and you had better start paying attention.

Posted by: peterg73 | October 1, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Great piece Adam. Well said.

This strikes me as about right. One of the things that always bothered me about Rahm was that, as evidenced both in his book with Bruce Reed, and the book "The Thumpin'" about his 2006 effort, was that he has a distinctly DLC in the 90's frame of reference. This re-enforced POTUS' faith (I would argue almost blind faith) in Beltway bipartisanship.

And while Rouse can't change the president's outlook, it appears he at least wouldn't be hostile to a pivot to a bolder approach. It seems like a longshot, but maybe this will set the stage for the White House to turn up the progressive populism, and in the process reanimate the Democratic coalition. If Rouse's presence means this view gets a fair hearing, it's reason enough for me to have hope... not necessarily for anything other than mitigation in November, but for a conventional wisdom-defying move in the near future.

Posted by: michael_conrad | October 1, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

peterg73

Amazing the blinders people wear and then accuse others of having them. It's a free country. Communist advocates are well within their Constitutional rights to believe in that system of government. We tolerate them as endorsers of the event. As has been noted, there are hundreds of groups and the Communists are probably NOT contributing any funds.

Liberals can barely get tepid progressive legislation (which the legislators DID read) through this Congress. None of it was 'rammed down American's throats" any more than the Bush Congress' of 01 to 06 did. And nowhere near as much since the Senate is still sitting on hundreds of appointments and almost 400 house bills. Talk about a waste of taxpayer money for their salaries.

Individual billionaires and multimillionaires, plus corporations, can now anonymously donate to organizations that support one party's candidates and tear down the other party's. We have no idea if they are American citizens or foreign, American companies or foreign, or even foreign nations. Are you really delusional enough to think those free market capitalists are not going to own even a higher percentage of elected representatives than they already do? Not to mention the Meg types that are flat out trying to buy seats with their illgotten fortunes.

Oh, yeah we have billionaires. I think the GOP:Dem ratio is about 100 to 10. And we have UNIONS. That employ about 7% of the nations workers. Mostly NOT in high paying jobs. They are up against the multinational corporations with billions in income and millions in tax refunds. Oh and the small business donations add up too. You know, those folks who operate businesses in the USA instead of in other countries.

I have NO anxiety about the communists taking over - unless it is China because they hold so much of our debt. (See, "In the Jaws of the Dragon"). We are willing to allow the Communists in the tent so they are visible and audible. Easier to know what they are up to. Do I worry about "The Family" and the Evangelical Christian mega churches and organizations? No shtuff Sherlock.

The potential destabilization of our economy and society because of the now higher than 1929 disparity in wealth? The world history of this problem leading to failures of governments is rather solid.

All Democrats, liberals and progressives keep trying to balance the capital vs labor power fight. And keep the government power in balance with maintaining a viable business environment, workforce and society.

When you sacrifice the middle class - and it's purchasing ability- to feed the greed of less than 1%, it is the opposite of Communism. We are a hell of a lot closer to that than any form of Marxism. Which 99.9% of Democrats do not support. A healthy majority are not interested in European socialist democracy either. We just want enough general welfare to keep the country from sinking into mediocrity or chaos.

Balance. It's not an act. It is a never ending struggle.

Posted by: GinnyCinCO | October 1, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

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