Sarah Palin may be known as a pit bull, but Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, is the real pit bull whose favorite target has always been Republicans.
“Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” Obama said in his election night speech.
Yet as his first personnel decision, Obama chose a man known as “Rahmbo” because of his hyper-partisan, bare-knuckle tactics that were honed in Chicago-style politics.
Emanuel has called himself a “Vince Lombardi Democrat” because he believes that “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a pollster who displeased him. In one meeting with his staff, Emanuel shouted out, “Since my kids are gone, I can say it: They [Republicans] can go f--- themselves!”
Following the 1992 campaign, Emanuel met with Clinton campaign advisers to discuss which politicians and members of the press they would retaliate against. Grabbing his steak knife, Emanuel shouted out to George Stephanopoulos and others at the meeting the name of another enemy. He then lifted the knife, brought it down with full force into the table, and screamed, “Dead!”
The chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Emanuel voted with Democrats 98 percent of the time in 2007.
“Rahm Emanuel’s job on the Hill was to advance the Democratic agenda, and he did so in a very partisan manner,” Brad Blakeman, a Republican strategist who was an aide in the Bush White House, tells me. “He has a history of being abrasive and using foul language. A chief of staff has to be more of a statesman to set an example to the staff on how they should comport themselves.”
“The problem is we don’t know who the 44th president of the U.S. is,” Dave Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, tells me. “Is he the Sol Alinsky radical? Is he the risk-averse state senator? Is he the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate? Is he the centrist, the unifier, who ran for president? There is no record that would indicate which one of those men was elected president.”
However, Keene says, “If you’re a unifier and a bridge builder, you don’t hire Rahm Emanuel to build your bridge. He after all is the guy who said Republicans can f--- themselves. And that’s in his kinder moments.”
Still, when assessing how a new president will operate, it’s wise to keep in mind that once they take office they often govern more closely to the center than their campaign rhetoric or record would indicate. Looking back at Bill Clinton’s presidency, many of his initiatives were surprisingly conservative.
Some say Emanuel has mellowed in recent years. In fact, The Wall Street Journal does not see Obama’s choice of Emanuel as a bad sign.
“For our part, we like the choice. Mr. Emanuel is likely to be a restraining influence on the wackier Members of Congress,” the paper said today. “There’s no doubt he's a liberal and a fierce partisan, an architect of the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006.”
But the paper said that one of the “keys to Democratic success is that Mr. Emanuel made a point of recruiting candidates who fit their districts—even if they disagreed with liberal orthodoxy on abortion or gun rights. As a veteran of the Clinton White House, Mr. Emanuel will also want to avoid the chaos of its first year. He helped to negotiate the 1997 balanced budget deal that cut the capital gains tax even as it created the children’s health-care entitlement. He supports expanded trade and will not want Mr. Obama to govern as a protectionist. The Chicagoan also has experience with financial markets, so he is likely to be a voice against the long-term nationalization of the U.S. banking system.”
The paper predicted that “Mr. Emanuel's famously sharp elbows” are as likely to be wielded against his fellow Democrats as against Republicans.
“With Democrats now so dominant, the fiercest fights—and the ones that really matter— will take place among Democratic factions in the White House and Capitol Hill,” the paper said. “Mr. Emanuel can help Mr. Obama understand when he needs to ignore the pleas of the left and govern from the center.”
In a similar vein, Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top John McCain supporter, said Emanuel “can be a tough partisan but also understands the need to work together.”
Blakeman, for one, is not buying it.
“In my opinion, a leopard doesn’t change his spots,” he says. “The jury will be out on this guy to see if he can change his style.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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