Rahm the Great: Fact or Fable?

March 4th, 2010

By Tom Carter

David Broder is a highly-respected political analyst and columnist who has extensive connections in Washington.  In his column today, The fable of Emanuel the Great, he objects to the recent flurry of talk about the role of Rahm Emanuel in the White House, particularly recent articles by two of his Washington Post colleagues.    

Dana Milbank recently wrote a column asserting that the advice of Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, was was being ignored by the President.  By Milbank’s account, Emanuel has limited access to the President, who prefers to listen to a coterie of Chicago cronies who are much closer to him.  According to this version of reality, failing to heed Emanuel’s advice has resulted in most of the failures of the Administration’s first year.  A few days later, Milbank wrote another column asserting that the President should be more forceful, maybe a bit like the UK’s Gordon Brown (who is likely to be sent packing by voters soon).

Then, a few days ago, Jason Horowitz wrote a long front-page “news” article, Hotheaded Emanuel may be White House voice of reason.  It’s actually an opinion piece that includes a detailed analysis of Emanuel’s role in the White House.  Like Milbank, Horowitz posits that Emanuel could have saved Obama from many of the mistakes of the past year and could still help get things back on track.

These commentaries and others are based mainly on unnamed sources who have inside knowledge of the workings of the White House or who know other people with that kind of access.  Part of the guessing game is whether Emanuel himself is leaking in an attempt to distance himself from the Administration’s failures.  Milbank and others have claimed that Emanuel is not their source, but that could be a conscious deception — such as, Emanuel talks to a third party who then talks to a journalist, and the journalist knows it.  Or, the journalist may not know that he’s talking to someone who talks to Emanuel — and doesn’t want to know.  Or, it could be coming from White House insiders or others who know the inner workings.

As I indicated in an earlier article, I tend to believe the pro-Rahm version started by Milbank.  That’s based on what I know about recent events and the principal actors, plus a lot of experience with the dynamics of organizational politics.  I’ve experienced the dysfunction that can be caused by leaders who rely too much on the advice of those personally close to them while ignoring or discounting those who know more and are often more senior than their friends. 

Even though the narrative that paints Emanuel in a positive light has the ring of truth, there’s no way to know what’s really going on — at least until some of the principal players begin talking publicly.  Or maybe until Bob Woodward writes a book about it.

One thing is certain — the President must get his act together.  He’s a smart guy, and despite his painful lack of executive experience, he should have learned by now that the White House isn’t working well.  He has access to the most brilliant political minds in the country, even if they aren’t personal friends, and he ought to talk to some of them.  Then he should make some hard firing-and-hiring decisions.  The future of his presidency depends on it.


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7 Responses to “Rahm the Great: Fact or Fable?”



  1. larry |

    Whether Rahm Emanuel is or is not an influence doesn’t alter the fact that Barrack Hussien Obama is the president. The blame for bad decisions rest squarely on his shoulders. I’m amazed at the amount of time and words expended trying to defend Obamas lack of leadership ability.
    I also read the articles mentioned in Rahm The Great. So what! What about David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs? There’s no shortage of scape goats.


  2. Lisa |

    It does give you a clue about the failure of leadership at the top and that management 101 is not in effect. Looking at all of these articles, it would appear that the sources and perhaps the atmosphere within the Obama administration are petty and that there is no sense of loyalty. Again, loyalty and professional composure are basic character traits of a smooth running organization with strong leadership. Loyalty within an organization is influenced from the top leader. We have a good understanding of Obama’s sense of loyalty: he no longer publicly acknowledges his spiritual adviser of the last 20 years, REV Wright who is a thorn in his side. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg and we will be reading and hearing more about this. When Rahm Emanuel steps down we will hear the typical excuse that most White House staff do not stay for the entire 4 years. Who takes his place will give us a keen understanding of where this White House is heading and what we can expect for the last 2 1/2 years of Obama’s presidency.


  3. Tom |

    Larry, I have to assume that your comment about the “time and words expended trying to defend Obamas lack of leadership ability” refers to other articles you’ve read because I didn’t say or imply that. As President, he’s responsible for everything the Executive Branch does or fails to do, as I’ve said many times. By the way, nice addition of his middle name — we get the point. But, you know, it might be better if you at least spell his name right — it’s Barack Hussein Obama, not “Barrack Hussien.” Minor point, I know, but as they say, the devil is in the details.


  4. Tom |

    Lisa, I think you’ve got it exactly right. It appears that no one the President is listening to ever took Management 101. And regardless of the truth of Rahm’s role in the White House or whether he’s been leaking or not, I’m sure that Obama is going to get tired of hearing about how he should be listening to him more closely. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rahm get thrown under the bus before long, where he can join Rev Wright, Bill Ayers, Grandma, and lots of others.

    Beyond Management 101, I’m not sure many of those folks took Political Science 101, either. Watching the way things have worked with Obama’s major agenda items over the past year, I’ve often wondered who was in charge. Sadly, it seems that no one was. That’s a major reason why I think the stories about Rahm lacking access and being ignored on major policy decisions are probably right. He’s too smart and too experienced to have let things happen they way they have.


  5. larry |

    Hey Tom you gotta get your shots in.
    Maybe the efforts by his minions to help us forget his first and middle name accounts for the misspelling on my part. Barak Hussein Obama, Irish isn’t it? I could say the devils in the details but maybe instead the devils in the White House.


  6. Lisa |

    It’s as though he is sitting back and and serving as a figure head while Nancy Pelosi attempts to run things.


  7. Tom |

    Yep, and that’s one of the reasons to think that Emanuel isn’t being allowed to exercise the influence he could and should. Dealing with Congress is like herding cats on the best of days, and sitting back and expecting them to design and enact the President’s major agenda intiative with little White House leadership is just plain dumb. And Rahm ain’t dumb, whatever else he may be.

    The Nancy Pelosi sideshow is one of the most interesting parts of this fiasco. She’s flown very high, and if she crashes it’s likely to be messy.


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