Is Criticism Against Rahm Emanuel Barack Obama’s Fault?

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Emanuel and Axelrod. Photo: Getty Images

Today The Wall Street Journal lays out an argument that Obama's far-left Democratic supporters are getting frustrated with him — and they're blaming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for the friction. From the Journal:

The friction was laid bare in August when Mr. Emanuel showed up at a weekly strategy session featuring liberal groups and White House aides. Some attendees said they were planning to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama's health-care overhaul. "F—ing retarded," Mr. Emanuel scolded the group, according to several participants. He warned them not to alienate lawmakers whose votes would be needed on health care and other top legislative items. The antipathy reflects deep dissatisfaction on the Democratic left with Mr. Obama's first year in office, and represents a fracturing of the relationship between the president and the political base that mobilized to elect him.


In other words, Emanuel is playing the role (purposefully or not) James Baker played when he was chief of staff to Reagan — that of centrist scapegoat for dissatisfied party extremists. The public option gets killed? Blame Rahm. Stimulus package not big enough? Blame Rahm.

But Emanuel's role was carefully planned by the Obama administration. Valerie Jarrett, the Obama family's Chicago ally, has been set up to maintain relations with the left. David Axelrod is meant to sell the bill of goods in the public forum. And Emanuel is left with the ugly, political deal-making that actually gets things done in Washington. And, according to many, he's been holding up his end of the bargain. From John Heilemann's column in New York this week:

For all the complaints in some quarters about the performance of Rahm Emanuel, the truth is that the White House chief of staff has played the inside game adroitly. What’s been missing has been equal skill at the outside game, in the form of an overarching argument at once coherent and compelling to the broad electorate — the kind of thing at which both Obama and his message guru, David Axelrod, once seemed to be geniuses.


So is the Democratic left's frustration with Obama because Rahm hasn't been playing enough public, Chicago-style liberal hardball? Maybe. But maybe it's just because Obama hasn't been living up to his end of the bargain. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. Nobody cares how popular Rahm Emanuel is — he's said he's not leaving the White House, and it's not likely that his boss wants him to. So as far as Rahm is concerned, centrist scapegoat it is.

Chief of Staff Draws Fire From Left as Obama Falters [WSJ]
Related: Can Obama Talk the Talk? [NYM]