Rahm Emanuel's Strategy For Progressives

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 21:15

There is a widespread theory that Obama is using symbolic gestures, such as having Rick Warren as a featured speaker at the inauguration the "symbolism" of keeping Robert Gates as Sectary of Defense, in order to provide himself political cover for passing left-wing legislation. So, conservatives get symbols, such as the person managing the largest federal department of all, but progressives will get policy. According to this theory, progressives who are upset with Obama over one thing or another are childishly upset over symbols, and ignoring the progressive reality of the governing to come.

With that in mind, consider the following anecdote about Rahm Emanuel and 2007 Bush Dog Tim Walz (Walz being one of the few Bush Dogs to drop off the list):

Members said [Emanuel] had a phenomenal knowledge of their districts, and he kept up to date well after the campaign ended. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) said one of his supporters wrote a letter to the editor of a small paper in his district, complaining about his vote on a rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Walz mentioned the letter to the editor to Emanuel on the floor and was stunned by his response.

"You mean the one about how you should caucus with the Republicans?" Emanuel shot back. "That's a good letter. Makes you look bipartisan."

(Hat tip: commenter triangunation)

In this case, Rahm Emanuel's thought it was a positive development that actual congressional votes on actual reprehensible legislation that actually passed into law stirred up public, left-wing anger toward the minority of Democrats who supported that law, as it made those Democrats look more bi-partisan.

This throws a lot of cold water on the notion that the only things conservatives have coming toward them are symbols, while progressives will receive actual legislation. In the above case, conservative legislation was viewed as a posiitve in that it created more "symbolic" gestures that would make Democrats appear more favorable to Republicans. The legislation itself wasn't even as important as the symbols. Emanuel could have said something like "don't worry, you did the right thing," or "don't worry, you voted your conscience." Instead, he pointed to the progressive anger that arose from actual votes on actual legislation as a positive for those Democrats on the receiving end of that anger.

This might be an isolated incident, and play out differently over the next few years, but it throws a lot of cold water on the notion that conservatives are only getting symbols, while progressives will get legislation. If you find yourself on the left, be prepared, at least from Rahm Emanuel, for a direct, consistent, even strenuous, effort to piss you off. That is part of Rahm Emanuel's strategy. And remember, btw, that Emanuel is one of the examples of a liberal appointment under Obama.

Chris Bowers :: Rahm Emanuel's Strategy For Progressives

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A lot of "progressives"... (4.00 / 8)
did a lot of projecting during the campaign.

Obama was never a progressive.

I hope Blago brings down Emanuel (4.00 / 1)

 I really do.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

likewise... (4.00 / 2)
... and i hope he then takes salazar, gates, vilcak, clinton, etc etc with him!

[ Parent ]
You've used that anecdote many times (4.00 / 3)
And while it also troubles me, there is also a rather innocuous alternative reading of the quote in question.

Your reading is that Emanuel is a right wing politician who resides in the Democratic party only to piss off liberals by pushing conservative legislation. He views it as a victory when progressives are pissed, and he is happy to have more DINOs in the caucus.

There is some truth here, but not quite as much as you may be worrying about.

The alternate explanation is this. If you're Rahm Emanuel and a concerned congressman comes to you about some flak he's receiving over a vote, what do you say? "You voted your conscience" isn't going to cheer the guy up, and just sounds too much like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington bullshit. "You did the right thing" is what he would say if he really did believe in passing right wing legislation.  But "it makes you look bipartisan" is more along the lines of "well, look at the upside" in a tough situation.

It's the same as "Well Mr. Artist, I'm sorry your gallery showing was a failure but at least you got some press."

Emanuel isn't a progressive, but he is a tough partisan thug who will prefer to screw the Republicans rather than progressives. There's a reason Limbaugh and his ilk hate the guy.

This is the first time (4.00 / 4)
This is the first time I ever used this anecdote. In fact, I didn't even see it until it was pointed out in the previous thread.

And while your reading of the anecdote is possible, keep the context of the anecdote in mind. It came from a story about why center-right Democrats would miss Emanuel in the House.

Fortunately, in this case, is appears that Walz listened to the letter writer. A few months later, he voted against the FISA re-write.

[ Parent ]
First for you, perhaps (0.00 / 0)
But this definitely came up on this site before.  I would have guessed it was you last time, but certainly don't remember specifically.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I've seen it here before (0.00 / 0)
But obviously it was one of the other front-page posters.  

[ Parent ]
well, my bad (0.00 / 0)
I've seen it used on OpenLeft at least two times before, to make the same point about Rahm.

It's a useful and insightful anecdote, but I'd really like to see more evidence that Rahm loves pissing off liberals. I think he just likes to win. In the case of these Blue Dogs from red districts, he thinks they'll have a better chance of winning if they piss off liberals once in a while.

But I do seem to remember the House being a lot more progressive than the Senate while Rahm was in there. Harry Reid inept leadership is a bigger problem than Rahm ever was.

[ Parent ]
This is EXTREMELY dubious (4.00 / 6)
[Emanuel] is a tough partisan thug who will prefer to screw the Republicans rather than progressives.

  See: Duckworth, Tammy.
  See: Mahoney, Tim.

 Emanuel rammed these "moderates" down our throats when there were better, more progressive options available.

  Duckworth lost her race in an otherwise huge Democratic year.

  Mahoney never stopped being a Republican at heart, and proved it with a sex scandal that cost Democrats the seat.

  Rahm Emanuel is a liability to the Democratic Party. It would not trouble me in the least to see him go down in flames.


"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
Rahm a Liability? (0.00 / 0)
From a power-politics perspective, I don't see it that way.  I see this as expanding the base of the Democratic party over to the right, where, the conventional wisdom has it, the reliable votes are.

Obama used the left/progressive movement to get elected.  But he knows that progressives are fickle and not reliable voters, and certainly don't constitute a majority.  2008 was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.  In 2012, he plans to rely on the vast swaths of voters in the center-right to get re-elected.  Progressives?  Fuck them.  Don't need 'em anymore.  Happy to piss them off if it reassures voters on the right.

That's why he'll be moving to the right over the next while.  The Republicans have given him an opening to do this by fucking things up so miserably (Bush) and wandering into cuckoo-land (Palin). It'll be a brilliant strategy for the Democratic Party, if it works.  (the Duckworth and Mahoney examples may hint it doesn't work-we'll see.)  Not so good for progressive policies.

[ Parent ]
It won't work (4.00 / 3)

 If right-wing policies didn't work for Republicans, why would they work for Democrats?

 The Dems' moving to the right just means they get to own the inevitable debacles that come out of pursuing such policies.

 And then the Republicans can run against them, and boom -- they're back in power overnight.

 There is never an upside to supporting bad policy. Never. Ask Hillary Clinton.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
Either this is snark (4.00 / 5)
or you've been living on a different planet from the rest of us.  Expanding the base over to the right?  The entire party got dragged so far to the fricking right that no one could tell the Democrats from the Republicans (hence they voted for the real thing).  That was Bill Clinton's strategy and it nearly destroyed the Democratic Party.  

[ Parent ]
You could be right .. (4.00 / 2)
except .. Rahm is DLC .. and his history shows that he isn't a Progressive .. or even a friend to Progressives(look at his recruiting track record as head of the DCCC)

[ Parent ]
I said in my comment... (0.00 / 0)
...that Rahm is not a progressive. I agree with you 100% and I do wish that he had only recruited loud & proud liberals while head of the DCCC.

But you know what -- I'll take an effective operator like Rahm who helps us take back the majority over an inept lefty any day. And no, I don't want to make the mistake of giving Rahm all the credit for 2006 -- Ned Lamont, Howard Dean, the netroots, and Bush's failures were much more critical there. But Rahm did recruit many candidates who appealed to their districts. Were there some blown calls? Sure, and they are listed above by Master Jack. But he also got a lot of calls right.

[ Parent ]
Actually he didn't get a lot of calls right (4.00 / 3)
I think of the 22 candidates directly recruited by Rahm in 2006 only 8 won.  The other seats were candidates that came from their districts.
 In fact the top three that the DCCC put money in that year all lost.  I know Duckworth was one, the next was in PA in the Philadelphia area was another and the last one was in KY.

[ Parent ]
PA area? .. (0.00 / 0)
you mean PA-06?  in which Lois Murphy ran twice .. and lost both times? .. in which she spent ungodly amounts of money .. and didn't do any better than Bob Roggio .. who spent all of $5? ... Rahm is infamous for Lois always calling him up .. she ran crappy campaigns both times .. Am I pissed?  Hell yeah!!  Gerlach is awful .. It's a district that both Kerry and Obama won(not sure about Gore) .. we should have a Democrat representing this district(in which I live) .. and yet we can never seem to recruit a candidate worth a damn

[ Parent ]
I've given up on Obama (4.00 / 2)
I wanted to believe. I wanted to hope but I think anyone still thinking this new administration is going to be anything but a Clinton/DLC redux are seriously delusional.  

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." - Mark Twain

Clinton/DLC if we're LUCKY (4.00 / 5)

  Rick Warren is far, far worse than Clinton/DLC. He's an out-and-out wingnut.

  I might need to start scoping out foreign retirement destinations...  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
yes (0.00 / 0)
bc Rick Warren is going to be deciding policy. Let's not act like the liberal equivalent of a freeper...

[ Parent ]
Well, hold on a minute (4.00 / 3)
I agree with Chris Bowers that appointing centrists and conservatives is something that should be taken at face value rather than being seen as secret progressive strategy.  Obama is a politician and people who think he is a progressive hero who is going to ride in on a white horse to save America are silly.

However, I do agree that he still is proposing some progressive legislation, and that it's a little early to give up on him when he hasn't even taken office yet.

I think the practical message to take home is that he will try to rule from the center or even the right if he's allowed.  We just have to keep the pressure on him, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

[ Parent ]
The difference between Clinton (4.00 / 4)
and Obama is US. That's been true all along and it will continue to be true.

A lot of people around here dis Clinton, but he is exactly what will happen to Obama if he does not have the netroots to both a) hold him accountable and b) defend him from Conservative attacks.

There's no reason to give up, now, the fight has only begun.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
reality bites (0.00 / 0)
clinton would have been better.  she does not pretend to be a leftist.  all obama has done is make pseudo-progressives make themselves feel good that they elected the first black president whom europeans like a lot. now, all they do is write apologia trying to justify his conservatism.  if we had clinton right now, she would know that progressives were scrutinizing her and would not have invited such a moron to speak at her inauguration.

[ Parent ]
Thank you for the hat-tip :) (0.00 / 0)
I don't think that those with liberal ideologies should expect a whole lot gratefulness from a global empire.  The two seem to develop irreconcilable differences.
It's like thinking a business that advertises transparency is going to thank you for breaking a non-disclosure agreement.
It's much easier to vilify liberals than tolerate us (especially when people ruled by ads are sold on everything).  

Obama-pologia! (4.00 / 1)
Wow, Obama-pologia has no limits.  This is a hokey theory.  Now Leftists have to use conspiracy theories in order to hold on to their fantasy that Obama is progressive.  Ouch.  

Here's a better theory: Obama will toss conservatives and progressives "symbols" so that they will shut up. Ultimately he wants to keep the centrist moderates and maximize his support on both the Left and Right by giving them symbolic (and maybe some ocassional substantive) support.

The Angry Left and Obama (4.00 / 3)
"This throws a lot of cold water on the notion that the only things conservatives have coming toward them are symbols, while progressives will receive actual legislation"

anyone who expects this from an Obama administration should join the Obama-sycophancy over at TPM (Greg Sargent, principal cheerleader). what Obama wants from the Left and will accept no less, is mindless applause...and there seem to be a ton of that  going round. I had always thought the best time to start pressuring Obama from the left was before his administration set its center-right orientation in concrete. But that is now too late and I am not sure could ever have really been done. But perhaps a few of the left leaning blogs might consider whether they really stand for progressive ideas and agenda or function as they seem to as an adjunct to the corrupt Democratic Party and its corporate wing. The Left helped achieve a tremendous victory in the defeat of the far-right in November; the victory however was the rar-right defeat , not the Obama/center-right/DLC ascendancy. If we are to perform our function we have to be at this faux-left administration from the start...otherwise when it goes under it will take us all with it.

Muddy Glasses (0.00 / 0)
These charges of Obama sycophancy are really tiresome, especially when excellent reporters like Greg Sargent and Josh Marshall are falsely indicted.

Here's Sargent today on Obama's choice of Warren:

Whatever short term political benefit this gives Obama is transitory at best, and it's easily outweighed by the downside: It gives an enormous platform, and the appearance of moderation, to someone whose views are radically out of step with Obama's -- things that can only help Warren when he opposes Obama's agenda on social issues for the rest of his presidency.

The guardians of pure progressivism see sycophancy and dear leaderism behind every corner. When Josh Marshall is tarred as a sycophant then things have really gotten ridiculous.

[ Parent ]
I think the anecdote... (0.00 / 0)
...sums up the DC view of the role of blogs quite nicely.

Health Care, New Energy Economy (4.00 / 2)
Wow.  I understand the complaints and even agree with most of them, but some here are really going off the deep end.  Obama keeps repeating over and over what his big priorities are and every indication shows he plans to follow through.  Yet, here are people acting like he is just the same as any ol' Republican.  Its like the past 8 years didn't even happen and we're back to Nader in 2000.

Not Nader (4.00 / 1)
more and better democrats.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Exactly. (4.00 / 2)
Obama is a transitional figure but not in the way many people think.

He is not the first of a new kind of Democrat but the last of the old.  

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
not a repub....of 2008 (0.00 / 0)
No. Obama is not a 2008 Republican. But he's about as liberal as Nixon.  

[ Parent ]
You people (4.00 / 1)
Only discredit your selves by this mass hysteria, other thread someone compares Warren to Hitler, now obama is supposedly as liberal as Nixon. Lala land stuff indeed.

[ Parent ]
Nixon (4.00 / 3)
Actually, Nixon was pretty liberal in terms of actual governance -- he was still operating under New Deal rules.  Given a choice I'm sure he'd be to the right of Reagan, but that wasn't the hand he was dealt.

Obama still thinks he is operating under Reaganomic rules.  He's wrong, but he doesn't know it yet.  He's given evidence he's aware of the big change coming, so there is hope he will actually break through the barrier (I actually think he will); but he may just be the transition.

[ Parent ]
Perhaps...you should READ (4.00 / 2)
Perhaps you should read more about modern American politics. The Republicans were not always backwater conservatives.  They moved more and more to the right on social issues as they embraced the Southern Strategy as a critical component of their electoral success.  Prior to that, the party was far more moderate to liberal.  And Republicans were the original "Massachusetts Liberals."  

[ Parent ]
Rahm caught on tape (0.00 / 0)
Rahm and Rod have been chatting and at least it appears that some of the discussion is who to put in the 5th district so that he could get his seat back in a few years.
I would love to hear what else was discussed.


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