White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has not made himself a favorite of liberal activists and the netroots. During the first year of the Obama administration, a series of Rahm-favorable leaks to the press made it sound like he was running everything in the White House. More recently, a new round of leaks scripts him as the White House Cassandra, always giving sound advice but no one listening to him, and thereby bringing on various problems.
One related point about the spate of "Obama-should-have-followed-Rahm's-centrist-advice" articles that have appeared of late: if you really think about it, it's quite extraordinary to watch a Chief of Staff openly undermine the President by spawning numerous stories claiming that the President is failing because he's been repeatedly rejecting his Chief of Staff's advice. It seems to me there's one of two possible explanations for this episode: (1) Rahm wants to protect his reputation at Obama's expense by making clear he's been opposed all along to Obama's decisions, a treacherous act that ought to infuriate Obama to the point of firing him; or (2) these stories are being disseminated with Obama's consent as a means of apologizing to official Washington for not having been centrist enough and vowing to be even more centrist in the future by listening more to Rahm (we know that what we did wrong was not listen enough to Rahm). One can only speculate about which it is, but if I had to bet, my money would be on (2) ...
Jim Lehrer started off the segment asking about the Rahm stories:
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, in 45 years in Washington, I have never seen anything like it. It is inconceivable that a president who is engaged in the biggest fight of his presidency -- that is passage of the health care, his defining issue -- the stories are coming out, Rahm Emanuel, according to the reporters, didn't talk to the reporters, but the people who did talk to the reporters are known allies and friendly to Rahm Emanuel, that, if the president had followed his advice...
JIM LEHRER: Just had listened to him.
MARK SHIELDS: ... if he had followed his advice, he would be better off now.
Substitute Bill Moyers for Lyndon Johnson. Had Lyndon Johnson picked up the paper and read that Bill Moyers was -- reported in the paper, his press secretary, having given him best advice and Lyndon Johnson would be a lot better off politically if he had followed it, Bill Moyers be packing that afternoon. He would be lucky to get out of there with his body intact.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Michael, you have some recent experience in the George W. Bush White House. What do you think what would have happened if a similar thing happened there?
MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I have to echo, I never have seen anything like it. I have served two chiefs of staff. And it is kind of their job to solve problems like this. Sometimes, a secretary of the state or whatever goes off the reservation or there are conflicts. It's their job to be the honest broker and to make things work.
In a situation like this, it's hard to imagine Rahm Emanuel now being the honest broker. He's put his views out there. He's -- and called into question two very important policies, a kind of big bang on health care, saying, "I would have done something more limited," in the middle of a health care debate, and then also the New York trials for the 9/11 conspirators, saying that he opposed this. And that's a very sensitive issue, too.
That's profoundly destructive to the president's agenda. It's -- it -- I have never seen anything like it.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree it is profoundly destructive to the president?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, how does the president come off?
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: The president comes off in the stories disengaged, excessively cerebral, not terribly politically strong or decisive. And, in one of them, the rest of the staff, senior staff all go -- come in for a punch, too.
I mean, it's just there's no reading of this that could be helpful. And if it's true that Rahm Emanuel had nothing to do with it, then Rahm Emanuel probably ought to seek a public forum, a friendly forum, and go on and just blast these stories, and say that Barack Obama is the toughest, most decisive guy, and that his decisions have been the right decisions, and, "I'm there to serve," I mean, because...
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Do you think -- yes.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I just think it's unhelpful.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, though -- you agree, Michael, that somebody's got to do something about this; it can't go on like this?
MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I agree with that suggestion.
JIM LEHRER: Just go out and get in front of it?
MICHAEL GERSON: I think that Emanuel himself is going to have to try to get in front of this.
I think that it's probably out of the question to have a change in chief in staff in the middle of a health care debate. I think that that would be very destructive in and of itself. But it is hard just to pretend like it didn't happen.
In other words, the Establishment press corps recognizes that these leaks are very significant. And the comments by Shields and Gerson highlight what Glenn Greenwald says. If Obama doesn't fire Rahm over this, it is either a major sign of weakness on his part, or a clumsy way of signalling his intention to move even further away from the Party base and his own campaign positions.