With what we can only imagine is a heavy heart, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has declined an invitation from his longtime acquaintance, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, to speak at the latter’s board meeting in Washington, D.C., today. The reason cited by Emanuel was that upon reflection, he saw it would be a conflict of interest, but in truth, he was bullied into declining: This weekend, the Times ran a story that made Emanuel and Dimon’s relationship — forged in Chicago when Dimon was running BankOne and Emanuel was an up-and-comer who had yet to send out his first dead fish — sound nothing less than dirty and vulgar and wrong.
When Mr. Dimon was fired, he got a supportive call from Mr. Emanuel, who recalled his own firing early in the Clinton years and how he worked his way back into the inner circle.
“The bond here is both of us lost at some place in our career and both rebuilt,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview. Now, he added, “He’s not afraid to express his opinions and I’m not afraid to express mine.”
The Times acknowledged that its article was instrumental in Emanuel’s decision, and we can see why he made it. Cavorting in broad daylight with a CEO who has benefited from the financial crisis would only have only lent credence to the idea that the administration is in bed, so to speak, with Wall Street, and would have opened both Emanuel and Dimon up to name-calling, taunting, and harassment. But we’re not sure that the canceling of this meeting, or even the Times’ snide exposure of their relationship, actually accomplishes anything — it certainly won’t mean an end to the friendship — if anything, it will only drive the pair more firmly underground. And is that really what we want? Perhaps we need to reexamine our attitudes, here. What’s really so wrong with these two men comforting one another, having long, helpful phone conversations in which they give each other advice and support, and occasionally staying late together at the gym? We’re an open and tolerant society. Is it really fair to ask them to bury their feelings? After all, just because they don’t act on them doesn’t mean they’re not there.