After doing some initial digging on my new favorite topic — current White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — I’ve come to a surprising conclusion:
The only way that Emanuel will not become a U.S. President is if he decides he doesn’t want the job.
In his half-century on the planet, Emanuel has made a meteoric rise from impoverished Chicago origins to become (according to Gawker and The New York Times) “the second most powerful man in the country,” with the Times adding that he is “one of the highest-profile chiefs of staff in recent memory.”
Excuse me, but “second most powerful man in America” means: second most powerful person IN THE WORLD. That’s right; not Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi. No longer Bill or Hillary. No one in the now-defunct Bush clan. No, not even (good Lord) Dick Cheney. No; RAHM FUCKING EMANUEL.
In fact, it may be that use of the word “second” is no more than a courtesy to President Obama, who himself defers to Emanuel on major decisions. According to a story in this week’s Washington Post, no White House decision is final until it has passed through Rahm’s office. By various accounts, the Chicago politician has masterminded such major initiatives as the economic stimulus package, Congress’s budget bill, and even U.S. foreign policy. All of which caused the Times to remark last year that Rahm is “clearly more chief than staff.” Dismayed Republicans recently noted that Mr. Emanuel apparently even steers decisions in the Treasury Department, where “’Rahm wants it’” has become an unofficial mantra.” Insiders largely credit him with orchestrating the Democrats’ landslide victory in the 2006 elections; as Illinois Republican Rep. Ray LaHood conceded, “Rahm did what no one else could do in seven cycles.”
The more you explore his personal and professional history, the clearer the message becomes: whatever Rahm wants, Rahm gets.
Evidently the amount of power Emanuel has amassed is striking panic into the hearts of Republicans, who have nonetheless fought back only feebly against the type-A alpha male. Among their almost-pathetic recent attempts have been calls for his resignation by (1) Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist, who demanded an investigation into Emanuel’s activites at Freddie Mac; and (2) former Alaska governor/national joke Sarah Palin, who complained on her Facebook page that Emanuel’s recent use of the word “retarded” in reference to a faction of Democrats constituted a slur against her own disabled child. (Yeah, you figure that one out.) In general, however, Republican criticism of Rahm has been muted. As one journalist remarked, the GOP is too intimidated by Emanuel to publicly criticize him.
Little wonder. Rahm’s hard-charging persona is the stuff of legend; in his memoir My Life, Bill Clinton described Emanuel as “so aggressive that he made [Clinton] seem laid-back.” The internet is replete with stories depicting Emanuel as a politician of the Chicago nouveau-mafioso ilk — from Capone-worthy tales of tabletop-stabbings to anecdotes of dead animals sent to unlucky souls who ended up on Emanuel’s shit list.
Naturally, the amalgamation of such concentrated power and the often-abrasive personality of the man wielding it have won Rahm his share of enemies. Recently some have griped a bit louder about the oft-overbearing personality of the man who sports the nickname “Rahmbo.” Last year, when Rahm tried to prevent unpopular New York governor David Paterson from running in the upcoming election, New Yorkers complained that he was interfering in local matters. The White House forced Emanuel to publicly apologize for the “retarded” comment that made Palin apoplectic. And early this year, the New York Post parroted the conventional wisdom of Washington pundits who predicted that Emanuel’s abrasive style will result in his imminent departure from his White House post; talking heads on NBC’s “McLaughlin Group” crowed that Rahm was “destined for political oblivion” by this year’s end.
Far be it from me to question such unassailable sources, but I think they’re dead wrong. Whether or not he leaves his stint as Chief of Staff, Rahm Israel Emanuel will never go gently into that good night.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly not impervious to attack. And a personality such as his is bound to have stashed some skeletons in his closet over the years. But, as the saying goes, no one kicks a dead dog. And Rahm’s been in the hot seat before. For example, he suffered a setback early in his tenure under Clinton, after a set-to with Hillary led to his demotion. For most souls, this turn of events would have spelled defeat in no uncertain terms. But true to form, Emanuel bounced back, soon became one of Bill Clinton’s top advisers, and is now Hillary’s new boss. Anyone with such character traits and formidable gifts as his must have a string of similar stories.
The point is that, once the indefatigable Rahm Israel Emanuel has identified a goal, he will persist until he has landed his prey. Even if, as some opine, his stint as Obama’s Chief of Staff soon ends, he will not be the type to skulk in the wings. The intense aggression, passion, and expressiveness within him demand center stage in the international arena.
Of course, a decision about the presidency is not solely Mr. Emanuel’s to make. The American people will, after all, have some say in the matter. Will they decide that “Rahmbo” is too caustic, too smart, too Jewish, too short (most reports place Emanuel between 5’7″ and 5’9″)?
Well, in recent years the American public twice elected (?) the terminally snide George W. Bush; fawned over the allegedly brilliant/psychotic Bill Clinton, who was rumored to have committed scores of murders; and exuberantly installed Barack Obama, the Harvard-educated son of a black African. Overall, we seem to be pretty tolerant of our leaders’ idiosyncrasies. I suspect that Americans will forgive all else, as long as our presidents make us feel protected, reassured, and entertained. I have little doubt that Emanuel can deliver on the first and last of these requirements. It’s the “reassuring” part that’s questionable; can Rahmbo “bland himself up” enough to become palatable to a generation of Americans accustomed to presidents who often seem more like game-show hosts than like Commanders-in-Chief?
I’d be willing to wager that, as with seemingly everything else, if Rahm sets this goal in his sights, all obstacles will crumble before him. The only real question is whether the U.S. presidency is his kind of game. But whether or not he ultimately aims for the Oval Office, I’m convinced that we won’t hear the last of Emanuel for many years to come.
Will he ultimately run for the presidency of the United States? Well … that, like so many other weighty issues, is for Rahm Emanuel to decide.