This week's Rahm Emanuel feature in The New Yorker is — though short in terms of the magazine's profiles — one of the funnier ones we've read lately. Ryan Lizza deftly interweaves killer personal details with boring (though also killer, in a different way) professional ones. Check out this paragraph:
During a visit hours before Congress passed President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, on Friday, February 13th, I absently jostled one of Emanuel’s heavy wooden letter trays a few degrees off kilter. He glared at me disapprovingly. Next to his computer monitor is a smaller screen that looks like a handheld G.P.S. device and tells Emanuel where the President and senior White House officials are at all times.
Oh my God, are we a little bit turned on right now?
Lizza goes on:
Personal Rahm: As a child, he attended a Jewish day school in Chicago, where students received written evaluations, instead of A’s and B’s. “My first-grade teacher,” he told me, “said two things that were very interesting: ‘Rahm likes to clean up after cleanup time is over.’ ”
Professional Rahm: “They have never worked the legislative process,” Emanuel said of critics like the Times columnist Paul Krugman, who argued that Obama’s concessions to Senate Republicans … produced a package that wasn’t large enough … "Now, my view is that Krugman as an economist is not wrong. But in the art of the possible, of the deal, he is wrong. He couldn’t get his legislation.”
Personal Rahm: I noticed that over his left shoulder, on the credenza behind him, was an official-looking name plate, which he said was a birthday present from his two brothers. It read, “Undersecretary for Go Fuck Yourself.”
Professional Rahm: The stimulus bill was essentially held hostage to the whims of Collins, Snowe, and Specter, but if Al Franken, the apparent winner of the disputed Minnesota Senate race, had been seated in Washington, and if Ted Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, had been regularly available to vote, the White House would have needed only one Republican to pass the measure. “No disrespect to Paul Krugman,” Emanuel went on, “but has he figured out how to seat the Minnesota senator?” … “Write a fucking column on how to seat the son of a bitch. I would be fascinated with that column. O.K.?”
Personal Rahm: While Obama was wooing Rahm, Rahm’s older brother, Ezekiel, an oncologist and a bioethicist, served as a sounding board. “I probably spent half an hour every day being screamed at on the telephone by him,” he said. “ ‘I don’t want to do this. Why do I have to do this? Tell me I don’t have to do this.’ All of which said to me he knew he had to do it.” (Ezekiel told me that the rivalry among himself, Rahm, and their third brother, Ariel, a Hollywood agent who is the basis for the Ari Gold character on HBO’s “Entourage,” was so intense that they had to pursue careers in different cities. “We couldn’t possibly be within a thousand miles of each other, because the force fields just wouldn’t let it happen."
Professional Rahm: His task has been made no easier by Obama’s desire for bipartisanship, which Emanuel argues the press has misunderstood. “The public wants bipartisanship,” he said. “We just have to try. We don’t have to succeed.”
Personal Rahm: Emanuel did not want the job. A few months before Election Day, Obama sent him an e-mail, with a warning: “Heads up, I’m coming for you.” Emanuel was a key negotiator in moving the TARP legislation through Congress, in October. After the bill cleared Congress, Obama, who supported it, sent Emanuel another e-mail. “I told you we made a great team,” he said. Emanuel wrote back, “I look forward to being your floor leader in the House.”
Professional Rahm: The G.O.P., Emanuel said, decided that opposing the stimulus “was definitional, and I will make an argument to you, both on political and economic grounds: they will lose. I don’t think the onus is on us. We tried. The story is they failed.” … Emanuel thinks that the stimulus bill speaks for itself: “It is the most progressive tax bill in the history of the United States, bar none, by a quotient of two.”
Personal Rahm: Emanuel seems to employ his volcanic moments for effect, intimidating opponents and referees alike but never quite losing himself in the midst of battle. “I’ve seen Rahm scream at a candidate for office one moment and then quickly send him a cheesecake,” Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic representative from Maryland, and a friend of Emanuel’s, told me.
There are two takeaways here. One: If you say the word "Rahm" enough times, it becomes kind of maddening. And two: Both personal and professional Rahm are completely terrifying.