When President Obama named Rahm Emanuel White House Chief of Staff, I assumed Obama saw the importance of having a former Clinton advisor and Congressional insider to help shepherd his ambitious legislative agenda through Congress. And I've assumed that Emanuel has been lockstep in support of Obama's agenda as it's been rolled out. But it turns out that, in fact, Emanuel may have been the lone voice opposing many of the stands taken by the White House.
Emanuel apparently argued against closing Guantanamo within a year. He also argued against trying alleged terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian court, while David Axelrod supported Eric Holder's position, with which Obama ultimately sided. And Emanuel reportedly pushed for a smaller health care bill. According to a recent Dana Milbank column in the Washington Post, "Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction."
As we now know, Emanuel failed to persuade the President on any of these issues. Instead, the President forged ahead with a more partisan and ideologically-driven approach, which has proved unpopular with the public. Milbank points to Valerie Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, and David Axelrod as White House insiders who are part of the "Cult of Obama." As Milbank describes it, "In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn't dirty his hands in politics." Or, to coin a phrase, they've been drinking the Kool-Aid. That is, they are reluctant to speak truth to power and are inclined to reinforce Obama's most idealistic inclinations.
Emanuel, on the other hand, may represent just the pragmatic voice that Obama needs to encourage him to moderate his views and begin to work realistically with the Republicans to pass meaningful legislation. Although I believe Obama means it when he say he wants to hear a range of opinions, I worry that, like other leaders before him, he may find that it's just so much easier to listen to those who already agree with him. I guess we'll have to wait and see.