A Few Notes on President-elect Obama’s Chief of Staff

By November 9, 2008Briefly Legal, Trade

Rahm Emanuel walking the darkened streets of Chicago is the lead photo of the weekend Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the major business-oriented general circulation newspaper in Germany. (Think Wall Street Journal once Murdoch gets done broadening its appeal.) Caption:

The face of the new government: Rahm Emanuel is a triathelete, but he’ll also have to prove his political conditioning as the designated chief of staff for a President Barack Obama. In the future he won’t only be moving in the darkened corners of Chicago but also in the White House, trying to control the “machine.” Emanuel has a reputation as an enforcer, which may not necessarily please his future underlings. But his first message to political opponents was one of reconciliation; he spoke of “unity.”

The German editors were surely aware of the historical resonance of putting a successful Jewish political figure on the front page of its newspaper along with the words “reconciliation” and “unity,” just as the Germans marked the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

The headline of the accompanying article, by the way, was “The Enforcer.”

The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund wrote approvingly of Emanuel’s appointment in “Political Diary,” suggesting he would resist the push to have a new Obama Administration let Congressional Democrats set the political agenda, a move that crippled the Clinton Administration in 1993.

The subsequent lurch to the left did incalculable damage to his presidency.

That may be one reason why Mr. Obama has chosen Rahm Emanuel, a respected member of the Congressional leadership, to become his new White House Chief of Staff. Mr. Emanuel has a reputation as a tough partisan, but he has also exhibited impatience with left-wing members of his party who have overly ambitious ideological agendas. A likely first assignment for Mr. Emanuel will be reminding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that, after only two years of Democratic control, Congress already has a lower approval rating than even President Bush’s.

To the extent Mr. Obama becomes a successful president, it will be because he remains his own man and trusts the brilliant political instincts that have gotten him this far, this fast.

As a member of Congress, Rep. Emanuel voted consistently with the Democratic position on key issues identified by the NAM (that is, usually but not exclusively against the NAM). But there’s still much for the business community to like in his voting record, including his support for free trade agreements with Peru, Chile and Singapore. He also showed himself willing to buck the trial lawyers, voting for the Class Action Fairness Act and limits on frivolous lawsuits against the food industry. (See “Rahm Emanuel, tort reformer” at Point of Law.com).



Leave a Reply