Posts Tagged ‘Rahm Emanuel’

Health Care Reform: A Test of Whether the Country Could Tackle Its Most Vexing, Long-Term, Systematic Problems

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Jonathan Cohn’s piece in The New Republic on how health care reform was passed is an excellent read. One of the most telling anecdotes was the story of how internally divided the administration was regarding pursuing health care reform at the start. The political advisers — Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod most prominently — favored avoiding the issue. And once significant push back was encountered, they favored abandoning comprehensive reform in favor of just tackling the problem of children without insurance. Of the prominent names in the White House who favored going forward through all these obstacles, the most famous and influential all opposed it. Save one — the one whose opinion mattered most. This particular passage probably best sums up the reason I saw health care reform as so essential:

Obama had come to view this debate as a proxy for the deepest, most systemic crises facing the country. It was a test, really: Could the country still solve its most vexing problems? If he abandoned comprehensive reform, he would be conceding that the United States was, on some level, ungovernable. Besides, several aides recall him saying, “I feel lucky.”

It’s only available in pieces currently to non-subscribers. But they’re releasing it in dribs and drabs to the rest: here’s Part OnePart Two, and Part Three. (Parts Four and Five have not yet been released.)

I have a feeling that when the retrospective histories of the Obama administration are written, the August-to-September 2009 period will be considered the turning point whereby Obama finally became comfortable in the office — and the moment the Obama administration began to gain some traction in making progress in this poisonous political environment — even against long-term systematic problems.

It was in this period that Obama made the Afghanistan policy his own — pushing back against the military forcefully even as he sided largely with their suggestions; and it was when Obama decided to go for health care reform even against a unified Republican opposition — and not just an easy bill, but one that went after the wrought issue of increasing health care spending.

This August-September period was when health care reform became about more than insuring millions of people — and instead became a test of whether or not Obama could break the hold of the idiocrats on our public conversation and make some small dent in tackling our systematic, long-term issues. It was tough; it was close; but the bill got done.

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Karzai gave in because he knew Obama was serious while Bush had not been

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Recent events in Afghanistan seem to have given Obama pause – and with good reason.

If there is an evolving Obama doctrine underlying the administration’s foreign policy, it is a focus on the consent of the governed and civil society. (I consider this a marked step forward from the “Democracy!!” approach by the Bush White House.) On top of this, counterinsurgency doctrine holds that we must have a partner seen by the local population to be legitimate in order to succeed in containing insurgent forces.

The massive electoral fraud in the recent Afghan elections then undermined both the core principle the Obama administration has put forward in its foreign policy and any chance of military success using a counterinsurgency strategy. Restoring the legitimacy of the Afghan government thus has been one of the major goals of the Obama administration in the past month as they attempted to salvage the situation. The obvious solution was for Karzai to allow some of the many millions of votes for him that were clearly the result of fraud to be thrown out thus ensuring a runoff between the top two contenders for the presidency.

Though it would seem to be in Karzai’s own interest to be seen as legitimate as well as America’s, he apparently did not see it the same way – and believed American forces would protect him and ensure he remained in power even if he blatantly stole the election.

It thus took significant efforts by the Obama administration to push him to act in both his own and America’s interests.

According to Ahmed Rashid, prominent Afghani author and reporter, writing for the New York Review of Books blog there were two main factors that pushed Karzai to finally consent to “enduring” a runoff election:

  1. He finally became convinced that Obama was serious about not sending in more soldiers to secure the country – as he realized Obama was less concerned about “looking tough” in the eyes of the world and more interested in making sure American soldiers were fighting a winnable war for American interests and was willing to cut Karzai loose if that turned out to be in America’s interest. (Karzai apparently believed Bush would commit to supporting him no matter what, as Bush had a “chummy,” mentor-mentee type relationship with the Afghan leader. Obama deliberately kept his distance to keep the focus on America’s interest in the region.)
  2. Karzai, as a vain man, did not appreciate dealing with anyone who had ever publicly said a critical word about him; thus the administration used officials who had previously criticized him to ramp up the pressure while three of the few people in Washington who never had (John Kerry, Rahm Emanuel, and Karl Eikenberry) were tasked with cajoling him into complying.

It seems quite silly that despite American and Afghan interests coinciding on this, it took so much attention to the vanities of a corrupt leader in order to persuade him to act in his own and his main sponsor’s interests. Despite elaborate theories about how history works, to get things done, to implement a larger agenda, you need to pay attention to petty personal details.

On such petty-ness, the fate of the world apparently too often turns.

[Image by KarlMarx licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Caricature of Rahm Emanuel

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I thought it was pretty amusing that Zeke Emanuel didn’t seem ready to play along with Ezra Klein’s last farcical questions about his brother, Rahm:

What is your brother Rahm’s favorite food?

Good question. I don’t know, actually.

I’ve heard it’s the still-beating hearts of his enemies.

Oh, my brother is a lovely person. He doesn’t do any of that.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Ezekial is still smarting from the ongoing campaign to paint him as a “Dr. Death” who wants to euthanize those who aren’t productive enough. (This despite the fact that he has been on record as opposing euthanasia since at least a decade ago.)

Of course, this Times piece over the weekend by Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny profiling Rahm Emanuel has a much lighter take on the most powerful chief of staff in memory:

The caricature of Mr. Emanuel as a profanity-spewing operative has given way to a more nuanced view: as a profanity-spewing operative with a keen understanding of how to employ power…

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Gog et Magog, Hypomania in the White House, Reuters!, The Most Interesting Man in the World, and the NRLC

Friday, August 7th, 2009

1. Gog and Magog. James A. Haught breaks some news – at least in American papers – explaining one line of “reasoning” George W. Bush attempted to use to convince Jacques Chirac to support the invasion of Iraq:

Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East… The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled… This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.

Chirac was so confused by this reasoning that he actually called in a Swiss theologian to explain. Just last week, Chirac confirmed this in an extended interview in France.

2. Hypomania in the White House. John Gartner for Psychology Today profiles Rahm Emanuel and the Emanuel family that shaped him. He describes Emanuel as hypomanic – which he stresses is not a psychological disorder, but a condition. Some of the more interesting tidbits:

Emanuel says f*ck more frequently than “if, and, or but,” insists political scientist Larry Sabato. Obama himself regularly jokes about Emanuel’s profanity: “For Rahm, every day is a swearing-in ceremony.”

Gartner also discusses how Emanuel’s family shaped him:

Stuck with each other, the brothers created their own subculture—unlike most gifted high-energy kids, who must deal with the confusing feelings that come with being different. Like the X-Men at the Mutant Academy, the brothers felt most normal in one another’s presence, where they could be themselves—with a vengeance.

The brotherhood may have been instrumental in curbing another hallmark of hypomania. If you’re hypomanic and gifted, you always have the feeling of being the smartest guy in the room. But if you have two other guys just as smart and aggressive in the room who say, “That’s a stupid idea” and start to pound you, it’ll knock some of the grandiosity out of you.

And this:

While Rahm has called the verbal combat that took place there “gladiatorial,” Zeke described it to me as more of a Talmudic debate—the Jewish tradition of argument where one’s opponent is viewed as an ally in the search for truth. “It’s a sign of love to take someone’s view seriously,” says Zeke, who has fostered at NIH a style modeled directly on the Emanuel dinner table; he calls it “combative collegiality.”

3. Reuters! Reuters believes in a link economy. Suck on that AP.

4. The Most Interesting Man in the World. I was going to link to an article at AdAge by Jeremy Mullman on Dos Equis’s spectacularly successfuly “Most Interesting Man” campaign – but as the article went viral, AdAge has apparently attempted to limit its distribution and now placed it behind a firewall. Google does have a cached version here. For now. It’s an interesting story of how the ad campaign broke all of the rules of beer advertising – and led Dos Equis to buck the trend of declining imported beer sales and actually notch a double digit rise.

5. The NLRC: Not about abortion any more. William Saletan explains why certain pro-life Democrats are having their loyalty questioned by the National Right to Life Committee despite their unchanged anti-abortion stance:

In 2007, Ryan began to flunk the scorecard because the scorecard was no longer primarily about abortion. It wasn’t Ryan who changed. It was NRLC.

[Image by me.]

The Lesson of 1993/1994

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Like a lingering odor, the failure of Hillarycare in 1993 is hanging over this perilous moment in Obama’s presidency. It’s true that Clinton’s health care plan never got this far legislatively.  By presenting a complicated plan to Congress and trying to bully it through, the Clinton administration made a huge tactical blunder. But it is clear that both sides sense that this is the moment when health care reform could be derailed. While the Democrats and Obama have long been planning on pushing through health care, what is going on now is pure political blood sport. This is a zero sum game. This is a Democratic attempt to prove that they can accomplish something that is popular and helps the middle class and which they have been trying for sixty years with only moderate success to enact. This is the Republican attempt to protect the status quo and to slingshot their way back to power as they did in 1994.

Bill Kristol has said that this is the week to stop health care reform – to not worry about being obstructionist or trying to appear constructive:

There will be a tendency to want to let the Democrats’ plans sink of their own weight, to emphasize that the critics have been pushing sound reform ideas all along and suggest it’s not too late for a bipartisan compromise over the next couple of weeks or months.

My advice, for what it’s worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill.

Beneath the veneer of policy disagreement that Kristol is using, it’s clear he is advocating pure obstructionism. He senses opportunity. Which is why he and many other Republicans are now all repeating the same talking points: Obama’s health care reform is an “experiment” with your health; it will ration health care; you will lose the insurance you have now; the government will impose itself between you and your doctor; socialism! These rather familiar refrains are being thrown about for one purpose – and it has little to do with health care.

As Senator Jim DeMint rather infamously declared in a secret call to anti-reform advocates:

If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

Newt Gingrich echoed this point:

This could be the bill that drags his whole presidency down and they look back on it and suddenly the whole thing is unraveled.

And the Democrats seem to agree – as the former Organizing for America sent out DeMint’s statements to rally supporters – and Mark Kleiman, a Democratic blogger said, “This bill is make or break for the Democratic Party.”

The Republicans are trying to break the Obama presidency – as they did Clinton’s. Clinton came back, but he never had the same political support.

Meanwhile, moderates play an interesting role in this political blood sport. They decry both sides for being mean – and suggest everyone get along. They talk about bipartisanship, suggest the Democrats move slowly, and they feel queasy at the prospect that the Democrats – by actually governing and doing what they promised they would do – might be overreachingMatt Yglesias ably responded to this point:

It’s not as if what happened in 1994 was the congress passed Bill Clinton’s big health reform package, then the public didn’t like it, then in revulsion they turned against Democrats. Nor did congress pass the proposed BTU tax, then the public didn’t like it, and then in revulsion they turned against Democrats. The noteworthy thing about the first two years of the Clinton administration was the lack of ambitious progressive programs put in place. And you could say the same about Jimmy Carter. Whatever it is people reacted against in 1978, 1980, and 1994 it wasn’t actually existing left-wing governance.

Ezra Klein – on the same theme – explained the lesson one of the key architect’s of Obama’s strategy learned from 1993:

Emanuel has carried that lesson with him into the Obama White House. “The only thing that’s not negotiable is success,” he likes to say. The worst outcome for the party — in part because it’s the worst outcome for its marginal members – is defeat. Voters punish defeat.

If the Democrats succeed – as Bill Kristol explained in 1993:

It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle-class by restraining the growth of government.

Despite this moment of peril, Obama’s strategy to get health care through is still intact. His administration has learned the lessons of 1993- 1994 well – perhaps too well.

But make no mistake as you see the charges thrown about by both sides in these next few weeks. This battle is no longer about policy for either the White House or the Republican Party. (Though the right policies will be essential to its long-term success.) Right now this is political blood sport – it is about whether or not the Obama administration will be broken by obstructionist elements. The short-term success of the administration will be determined by whether or not they succeed in the next few weeks to pass something substantial; their long-term success will depend on the policies they are able to include.

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Stirring Up Trouble

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Kevin Hassett in an opinion piece for Bloomberg calls on Obama to rein in Pelosi and try to bring in the spirit of bipartisanship that Obama talked about so much. He even compares Obama’s calls to civility (while running a civil campaign) to George W. Bush’s calls for civility (while running an exceptionally dirty campaign, especially against his Republican opponents.) Hassett is outraged that Nancy Pelosi said – to the Republicans who were threatening to vote against the stimulus bill:

Yes, we wrote the bill. Yes, we won the election.

How uncivil of her! Hassett continues:

If [Obama] wants to fulfill the promise of his rhetoric, he should take Pelosi to the woodshed and insist that she include Republicans, collegially, in the process. He should stand up to his party and threaten to veto a bill if it fails to make reasonable concessions to his friends across the aisle. He should advise his own staff to begin returning the phone calls of senior Republican aides.

Contrast Hassett’s hissy fit about how the Republicans in Congress are being marginalized with the comments of these Republicans themselves:

“If [the] President carries this on it does open door for a new tone!” – Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.)

“Sharp differences are muted.” – Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas)

“President Obama is speaking to House Republicans right now on Democratic stimulus bill. Good sales man, bad product.” – Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

There are complaints about how the Democratic majority is running the process on the Hill – and Obama should look into that. I think an open and fair process should be the standard no matter which party is in control. But the situation is nothing like Hassett’s piece suggests – as Rahm Emanuel’s outreach to Republicans also demonstrates. It makes it seem like Hassett is just trying to build a meme to use against Obama later.

Meanwhile, Congressman Tom Price has told Rush Limbaugh to back off:

…it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing….

Which Emanuel Brother Are You?

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Take the quiz on Wonkette.