I’m not one of the Rahmbo haters like some on the left or the right. The position of Chief of Staff is very important, but I don’t think he’s a Machiavellian puppet-master who controls Obama. Nonetheless, the unconfirmed news that he might leave the administration within the year does remind me of something that has bothered me about him, especially during the long health care process.
Every story about Emanuel pitches him as the pragmatist who delivers results via compromises and small policy changes, and that his M.O. is in contrast with the idealistic and less compromising agenda of the President and most of his inner circle. But there’s a pretty big problem with this: his method doesn’t work. I don’t doubt that it used to, back when he worked in the Clinton White House. But the Obama administration has employed Emmanuel’s legislative strategy on virtually every issue. My two favorite examples:
– One health care, a single-payer system was always a nonstarter, but they also ditched a strong public option, then a weak public option, and a Medicare buy-in. It bought them no Republican votes.
– On the stimulus bill, they scaled down the total size of the bill their economists wanted and included a lot of tax cuts. It bought them no Republican votes.
So while I’m not a Rahm hater, a simple question remains: why use his strategy if it produces only weaker bills that no Republicans will vote for? I’m not saying this is his fault. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth trying to a certain extent. But I don’t see how it will be a viable legislative strategy going forward. It’s no secret that Emanuel wanted Lindsey Graham to work on a climate bill, but like Olympia Snowe with health care, they will always hold the carrot out in front, only to snatch it away at the last moment and move the goalposts further.
It’s probably not fair for me to offer this criticism without suggesting an alternative to the Democrats. The options are pretty slim, but the only realistic options I see are to:
(1) Make filibuster reform an actual priority and do everything you can to change it.
(2) Use the 50 vote reconciliation process to pass everything you can possibly legally cram into it.
(3) Attach unrelated progressive components into essential (i.e. spending) bills that basically have to be passed, forcing Republicans to vote against them and risk highlighting their obstructionism to a significantly greater degree than before.
The Democrats will undoubtedly lose seats this fall election, and unless they resort to some of these tactics or come up with better alternatives I haven’t thought of, then Obama’s legislative agenda is dead for the remainder of his first term at the very least.