Jonathan Alter: Post-Rahm, Obama Must Deal With 'Naive' Left

Thursday, 30 Sep 2010 08:18 PM

By David A. Patten

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Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's departure from the White House isn't as big a deal as the media are playing it up to be, but Newsweek columnist and best-selling author Jonathan Alter says his exit will require the president to manage a "naïve" political left that, until now, has focused its wrath on the colorful "Rahmbo."

White House sources confirmed Thursday what cable talk shows have been obsessing over for a week now: Emanuel, considered by some Beltway insiders the second-most-powerful man in Washington, will leave the White House on Friday to begin his run at becoming the next mayor of Chicago.

emanuel,obama,mayor,chicago,rahm,healthcare,recession,midterms,war,afghanistanAccording to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, President Obama will make two "personnel announcements" at 11:05 a.m. Eastern time on Friday.
Sources say the president will accept Emanuel's resignation and will introduce senior adviser Pete Rouse as Emanuel's replacement as White House chief of staff on at least a temporary basis.

Rouse served as chief of staff for former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and for Obama when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois.

In an exclusive Newsmax interview, Alter, the author of the best-selling book "The Promise: President Obama, Year One," predicts that Rouse will prove an effective replacement.

Editor's Note: Get Jonathan Alter's"The Promise: President Obama, Year One" for a good price at Amazon — Go Here Now.

"I like him a lot," Alter says. "I think he's just a very decent guy, a good manager, strong relations with the Senate."

Emanuel's exit represents a major shift in the president's staff, just as a GOP electoral juggernaut appears to be bearing down on Democrats in the midterms.

Emanuel, who famously remarked shortly after his appointment that "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste," was one of the most colorful and controversial figures in the administration.

A Democratic partisan turned political pragmatist, he played a key role for Obama in keeping Democratic moderates in line as the administration pushed its legislative agenda on healthcare reform, cap and trade, and the stimulus bill.

Alter tells Newsmax that "focus on the staff is misplaced," however, because, unlike some of his predecessors, Obama makes all his own decisions.

"Washington is obsessed with aides, and staff," Alter says. "And they are missing the point about this president. He's totally in charge and he makes all the big decisions. He's nobody's puppet. He's not the kind of guy that if you talk to him last, you're going to get your way. That's just not the way he operates."

One example of how Obama controls his own agenda revealed in Alter's book: Emanuel literally begged the president not to proceed with his controversial plan to overhaul the healthcare system for fear of political damage. But Obama pushed ahead on it anyway.

Alter says events have proven the president made the right call on that one, politically speaking.

"Oh, I think the president was completely right, because there would have been a lot of damage anyway just because the economy is in bad shape," Alter tells Newsmax. "It helped to kind of poison the environment. But I think the reason Democrats are in danger of losing the Congress is because Obama hasn't made the economy good enough . . . and I don't think he pivoted to the economy politically as soon as he needed to.

"But substantively, you have to ask the question: If he hadn't done healthcare, and he had concentrated full time on the economy starting in mid-2009, would unemployment still be 9.7 percent? The answer is yes. So he did what he could on the economy, which was getting through a very large stimulus, as large as the system would allow. And supporting Ben Bernanke in shoveling money out of the Fed to prop up the economy.

"It's hard to think of something else he would have been able to get through. So whatever one thinks of healthcare, it's not as if it was an either/or situation, that if he hadn't done healthcare he would have been rescuing the economy. He was doing what was politically possible on the economy," Alter says.

One important role that Emanuel played in recent months was acting as the lightning rod for the Democratic left, which increasingly complains that Obama has not been forceful enough in pushing an even bigger stimulus bill and an even more progressive agenda.

"The left, they're just wrong," Alter tells Newsmax. "They're politically naïve. [New York Times columnist] Paul Krugman kept saying the stimulus should have been bigger.

"I was in the Senate at the beginning of this week, I was talking people about this, and they said, 'It's just ridiculous. He had no chance of getting [Senators] Collins, Snowe, or Specter if he'd gone over a trillion dollars. Zero chance.

"The stimulus wouldn't have passed. So Krugman and the others can say until they're blue in the face that the stimulus wasn't big enough. It has nothing to do with reality. The reality was, there was simply no way to go higher on the total dollar amount for the stimulus."

Now that Emanuel is out of the picture, some analysts speculate the party's left wing may increasingly point its collective finger directly at Obama.

Obama may endorse blue-dog Democratic candidates to help keep hard-core liberals in line, Alter says.

"I don't think he has a lot of time for head-in-the-clouds liberals," Alter tells Newsmax. "Even when he's sympathetic to them on some issues, he's very pragmatic. So if he thinks they're doing some things that are weakening his presidency, he'll reach out to them, but he's not going to kowtow to them.

Alter, a contributing correspondent for NBC who frequently appears on MSNBC and CNBC, says the president's determination to reform education is likely to become a flashpoint in the president's relationship with his party's progressive wing.

"I'll tell you where it's going to be a big issue is in education." Alter predicts. "Because for a Democrat, he's been very courageous on education."

He says the unions are "very upset" with Obama over his education reforms, and have enlisted civil rights organizations to help them.

"And Obama is undeterred," Alter remarks.

Editor's Note: Get Jonathan Alter's"The Promise: President Obama, Year One" for a good price at Amazon — Go Here Now.




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