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William Klein

William Klein

Posted: October 31, 2008 03:40 PM

Don't Do It, Rahm!


When I first met Rahm Emanuel, he was a dancer. He also worked at the campus pub, where as I recall he made a pretty decent cheeseburger.

We were both students at Sarah Lawrence College in the mid 1970s, where we each took political science courses and dabbled in the arts. I'm also proud to say that we both launched our political careers there on the Student Senate. (I recall ending my campaign speech with the line,"vote early and often," which astonishingly went over big, as if no one had heard it before).

As elected officials, we dealt with weighty issues like using student funds to bring a prominent lesbian music group to campus (hey, this was Sarah Lawrence!) and approving the purchase of a 14th century wind instrument called the crumhorn for the resident early music ensemble (ditto).

Since then, Rahm has moved on to greater things in politics, while I have watched (and wryly commented) from a distance. As someone who considers Robert Caro's biographies of Lyndon Johnson to be congressional power instruction manuals, I admire Rahm's political gifts enormously. He deserves a lot of credit for the Democrats' return to power in 2006, and I've been looking forward to seeing him become the first nine-fingered Speaker of the House. (Sarah Lawrence wasn't his first experience as a short-order cook. Ouch!)

But recently there's been talk of Rahm being recruited to be Obama's Chief of Staff.

The Great Mentioner (see Russell Baker) has previously tapped former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle for the job. Daschle would be giving up less to take the job (though the same my not be true for his wife, who may have to quit her job as a lobbyist). It would be easier for the former Senate majority leader to do the job for awhile, and then go back to private life.

The average length of stay for White House staffers is 18 months. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each had four chiefs of staff. The last President who stuck with just one person in the job was Harry Truman.

On the other hand, Sam Rayburn was Speaker for seventeen years. It may take ten years (more likely sooner) but I believe Rahm Emanuel will be Speaker of the House.

But even if helping Obama means more to Rahm Emanuel than his personal political career, he can do more for Barack by staying in the House. As I wrote during the primaries, I worry that the "politics of hope" won't overcome the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats.

I don't expect the forty or fifty Republicans left in the House after this election to smack themselves on the forehead and say, "We've been wrong all along! Let's throw our principles out the window!" I know it's hard for some of us to believe, but Republicans really do have principles. Well, many of them anyway.

It's going to take skilled political leadership to get even half of what Obama has promised through Congress. How do you think health care will go this time? Energy policy? Pension reform? Even the new "compassionate Socialists" who have emerged in Washington won't roll over for every trillion-dollar idea or clalmpdown on corporate greed. This is no time for the captain to leave the ship.

Rahm, let Tom do it.

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