I admit it. I never worked in the White House but I've read more than most people about Presidents.
More important, I devotedly watched WEST WING which was produced each week with the involvement of top former White House operatives and with the assistance of the incumbent Clinton team.
And one thing I learned is that Presidents depend on a good staff. President Josiah Bartlett was a smart, savvy man (like Barack Obama) but he depended on his chief-of-staff, Leo Mc Garry, to steer him right. When the hard decisions came up, he had Leo who, with no agenda of his own, offered advice based purely on what he believed was best for the President. Same with Josh, Sam, CJ and Toby.
All of them were simultaneously utterly starry-eyed about the President, the White House, and being part of history which, in day-to-day terms, was translated into selfless devotion to their President's (and country's) success. FDR and JFK also were surrounded by that type. Clinton and Reagan were too, more or less. George W. Bush, on the other hand, had a Vice President and a staff that pushed policies (the Iraq war, for instance) that were on their personal agenda without any regard to how it would affect Bush's standing.
Although many of Obama's staff put the President first, I don't see any evidence that Rahm Emanuel did. All he did was take the approach he used in Congress (curse, triangulate, compromise before the game began, and then condemn the base for complaining about the sellout) and apply it to the White House. He failed. And then he got the hell out.
Other staffers, deeply loyal to Obama, were stifled by Emanuel. Obviously Valerie Jarrett and Vice President Biden were pained by what was happening but were shoved aside (not to mention Gregory Craig).
I blame Obama too. He picked Rahm along with Rahm's kind of economic team (timid, Wall Street oriented, deregulation fanatics and therefore, in part, responsible for the horrible economic mess we are in). And his Middle East team (Dennis Ross!), forget about it.
Mostly I blame him for trusting others to put his success first and for allowing his new, lean and hungry buddies to override the views of those whose devotion and competence was tried and true.
I think that just perhaps Obama can turn this all around after the election. Rahm, the operator, is gone, replaced by Pete Rouse (loyal, patriotic and utterly without personal ambition). The First Lady and Valerie Jarrett will still be there (unchecked by Rahm's influence). And David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Robert Gibbs, Bill Burton and a host of other loyalists will be there too. (And I'm beginning to include Hillary Clinton in that number).
All in all, we'll be better off in January (even with the Democratic losses) than we've been since January 2009. Obama, with the help of a strong, loyal crew, can right this ship. But, first, scrub the deck.