It’s hard to read that without conjuring up the image of a rabid supporter preaching hope and change, but I assure you, that’s not me. I agreed and disagreed with Obama on a number of issues, but I was drawn to his potential and, as an independent moderate, by the prospect that he would govern from the middle. After John McCain’s hard tack right and the loss of any semblance of his former maverick persona with his selection of Sarah Palin, Obama struck me as the one candidate who might act as a centrist and not as an ideologue.
Despite the GOP’s best attempts to paint him as a socialist, descriptions of Obama depicted him as something entirely different. Two stood out. The first was Ryan Lizza’s profile in The New Yorker of Obama’s rise through Chicago politics. Lizza painted Obama as a master political strategist who could use rhetoric as a means to an end—winning an election, for example. Many on the left were infuriated by this depiction, but I relished it.
The second piece that struck me was one from The Huffington Post by Cass Sunstein, a leading legal scholar and one of Obama’s closest friends and colleagues at the University of Chicago. In his op-ed, Sunstein describes Obama in the context of his days as a law school professor—he would routinely have his students argue and debate the nation’s most pressing topics. Obama wanted to understand each side of an argument, and develop his ideas from there.
These readings led me to two conclusions. The first was that Obama was focused on finding the best possible solutions to problems, and not necessarily from a liberal or progressive starting point. And, second, he was a good enough political tactician to make these resolutions a reality.
However, even if this is true, I feared that Obama might be stymied by outside forces—most notably, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. My biggest concern with an Obama presidency was that Pelosi and Reid would try to overpower him with their legislative agenda and that a wet-behind-the-ears Obama would become a rubber stamp.
But, this fear, for now, has been mitigated. Not 48 hours after being elected as our next president, Obama served notice to the legislative branch—if not the country—that he will not be trifled with. How? He named Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff.
Chalk it up to the “yesterday’s news” department if you wish, but Emanuel’s appointment, along with the more recent additions of Pete Rouse and Robert Gibbs to the future White House staff, prove, for the time being, that Obama will be his own man.
Emanuel—known not-so-affectionately as “Rahm-bo”—is a bullish figure. As both a staffer for Bill Clinton and as the head of the DCCC and chair of Democratic Caucus during his time as a congressman, Emanuel was a ruthless strategist who found tremendous success. When he had an agenda to carry out, he was uncompromising and went against both Republicans and Democrats to ensure that it was executed to its fullest.
Further, Emanuel is widely known as a moderate Democrat as he has been a member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. He is a partisan, but not in the traditional sense—it’s not an emphasis on ideology as much as it is a strategy to accomplish specific tasks. Like Ari Gold from Entourage? He’s based off Ari Emanuel, Rahm’s brother—they are two peas in a pod, just in different vocations.
If Obama wants to govern forcefully (and, might I add, from a center-left position), there are few, if any, people better suited for Chief of Staff than Emanuel—he combines the right amount of Washington clout with the willingness and ability to stand up to both friends and enemies.
Obama’s choice of Chief of Staff was his first major decision as the President-Elect, and one that is a decent preview of how he wishes to govern. By choosing Emanuel, Obama is sending a clear message: he will not pursue a far-left agenda, and he will not tolerate those on either side of the aisle who try to back him into an ideological corner.