Why the Washington Post loves Rahm Emanuel
I am struggling to understand the rationale behind this long Washington Post story about Rahm Emanuel. Its basic thrust is: various people are saying Obama should have listened to Emanuel more closely and scaled back health care reform and the closing of Guantanamo. Now the president is paying the price for his arrogance and overreaching. Oh, woe unto he who fails to listen to Rahm!
If the Washington Post tells us so, I guess some people are indeed saying these things. And maybe, as the piece says, “there is a contrarian narrative emerging” that lets Emanuel off the hook for the Obama administration’s difficulties. After all, one reliable sign of an emerging narrative is its appearance in the pages of the Washington Post.
But really, what is this narrative? It’s a few members of Congress and administration officials, many of them unnamed, carping about political problems and trying to fix blame on some Obama appointees while exonerating others. The pretext of the article is that Obama is in grave political difficulty. And yes, the Democrats are likely to suffer major losses in elections this year. But it’s hard to believe that the nation’s political trajectory is due to, for example, this:
“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”
I’m sure Obama is indeed indifferent to “small, marginal things” that might help moving legislation. If he paid more attention to such things, though, he’d be attacked for doing that. But does anyone believe that more aggressively stroking and accommodating certain members of Congress would have made a significant difference in health care or anything else? It’s silly – all the more so because nothing has been decided. Health care reform might yet pass. Guantanamo may yet be closed. And the fate of the fall elections and Obama’s presidency depend far more on the unemployment rate than on any piece of legislation or decision made in the past year. Obama faces serious structural obstacles, yes, and perhaps his strategy and decision-making process are totally out-of-whack. But that’s not really what this article is about.
What went wrong here? Well, the idea for the piece seems to have come from a Dana Milbank column – which the piece cites as an example to buttress its case – but I don’t think that’s the root of the problem. The Washington Post cannot straightforwardly document what’s really happening, which is: a pro-Rahm constituency is using Post news pages to take shots at the White House, laying the groundwork either for a more Emanuel-centric strategy, Emanuel’s exoneration from Obama’s failures, or both. This piece grants political constituencies access to the Post’s news pages to grind their axes with minimal skepticism about their motives or agenda. What does the Post get in return? It strokes its sources, and gets an opportunity to create a news cycle “narrative” that might last longer than a few hours.