Let me start this post by saying I'm no Rahm Emanuel fan. I don't like his vicious hatred of Howard Dean and the 50-state strategy (which I helped kick start back in the '04 election). I don't like how he's stared down the base sometimes. He's not a guy I think I'd want to chill out with.
But that's why he's the right person for Chief of Staff in an Obama administration.
I think back to 1993 for this one. The first and maybe biggest mistake that Bill Clinton (another fresh, young president) made was picking his longtime friend Thomas "Mac" McClarty to be Chief of Staff. McClarty was (and is) by all indications a wonderful guy. He quickly earned the nickname "Mac the Nice."
And yet, McClarty's accommodating nature led to a host of mistakes in the opening couple of years of the Clinton administration. Mac was too willing to let the left (of which I'm a member) run wild, without prioritization. The administration started with gays in the military and moved on to massive spending of every project the left liked. It gave the Republicans the ammo they needed, and by the time a budget package rolled around it was pretty easy to oppose the new president. It was downhill from there, leading to the massacre of 1994.
The lesson here is the same lesson that President-Elect Obama (I'm crying just writing that) taught us during the campaign -- keep your eye on the ball, have a long term vision, and stick to it. Do not take detours He and his allies have to resist the temptation to try to push through every thing on the laundry list in one day or one month, recognizing that there are real priorities, and a full term to try to get done what needs to be done.
That's where Rahm will excel. Though I don't know him personally, I know his rep and those who deal with him. He's a ball-buster, to put it bluntly. He's smart enough, however, to not use a hammer against Republicans, but to keep Democrats focused and thinking long-term, not allowing them to start getting carried away the same way they did in 1993.
President Obama has two, and only two, immediate concerns -- getting out of Iraq, and passing an economic package. That's where there is a true mandate, and where 100 percent of the focus needs to be. And, it's important to set the tone of post-partisanship by doing both these things with some Republican support.
If Obama succeeds in taking care of those two things, with some Republican support, it sets a climate that allows for more transformative change down the road on some of the other big issues, whether it is universal health care or redoing trade deals.
To do things the right way, to solidify the change we seek for the long-term, it takes discipline and focus. Rahm might not be the nicest guy, but he is the best guy to keep the Obama White House tightly focused, and keep the Democrats in Congress disciplined.
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