How to Write a Rahm Emanuel Profile

Rahm Emanuel is a colorful personality, and his role as chief of staff in the Obama administration is worthy of analysis, especially when the president’s agenda seems in peril, as it does now. But today’s early publish of the upcoming New York Times Magazine profile officially marks a glut, coming as it does on the heels of profiles that have run in the Washington Post and the New Republic in just the past week. Indeed, certain themes and observations are, seemingly, becoming standard components of the Emanuel profile. With that in mind, here’s a handy guide to what you may need to mention when you write your own.

Emanuel and Obama As Yin and Yang:
WP: “Obama selected Emanuel for his experience in the Clinton White House, his long relationships with the media and Democratic donors, and his well-established — and well-earned — reputation as a political enforcer, all of which neatly counterbalanced Obama’s detached, professorial manner.”

TNR: “The president-elect, after all, stood for a new era of post-partisanship and good government as much as any particular policy goal. His top campaign aides were exquisitely attuned to the strength of his personal brand. Emanuel, by contrast, was a born vote counter — an exponent of the view that civic republicanism plus 49 senators gets you exactly … nothing.”

NYTM: “A visionary outsider who is relatively inexperienced and perhaps even a tad naïve about the ways of Washington captures the White House and, eager to get things done, hires the ultimate get-it-done insider to run his operation.”

Emanuel Is Willing to Loyally Carry Out Obama’s Directives, Even When He Disagrees With Them:
WP: “‘It’s not germane what the discussion was beforehand, what his idea was, because once a decision is made, he puts himself whole-hog behind it,’ the official said of Emanuel.”

TNR: “[H]e has thrown himself into major initiatives whose logic he disagrees with. On health care, one administration official told me, ‘It may not be the thing he wanted to do his whole life. But he put his shoulder to the wheel to get the thing done.’”

NYTM: “When Obama makes a decision at variance with Emanuel’s advice, Emanuel does what staff members do and adopts the decision as his own.”

Emanuel Has an Unparalleled Work Ethic:
WP: “Emanuel’s allies say there is no such thing as Rahm at rest. According to almost everyone who has ever worked with him, he has an insatiable need to be in the mix, and he is deeply concerned with the news of the day. His office is the White House nerve center.”

NYTM: “His nature is to be involved in everything — ‘Rahm can do everybody’s job and some days does,’ says another White House official. While Obama has made a point of organizing his own schedule to be family-friendly, Emanuel is often at the office when the president arrives and still there when he leaves.”

Democratic Legislators Anonymously Questioning Emanuel’s Toughness:
WP: “One early supporter of Obama, who has known Emanuel for years, did not give the chief of staff a pass. “The House members recruited by Rahm say to me, ‘He is supposed to know our needs; how come we are being cut off at the knees on so many issues?’ They don’t understand why Rahm is not being more aggressive.”

NYTM: “‘We need a little less ballerina and a little more L.B.J.’ [a Democratic congressman] told me. ‘For all the reputation of being able to bust knee caps, we haven’t seen nos turned to yeses.’”

Emanuel Sympathizing With Worried Democrats:

One Democratic senator who wanted to pivot to unemployment said Emanuel shared his thinking. “I understand, I understand. We have to get to jobs,” the senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, recalled Emanuel commiserating.


We call him up and say, “‘Hey, Rahm, you’ve got to push this back to the middle,’” Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina told me. “He always says: ‘I hear you. I hear everything you’re saying. I’m doing everything I can.’”

Emanuel Prefers a Strategy of Small Achievements That Become Substantial in the Aggregate:
WP: “That seemingly small, unsexy stuff is, however, key to Emanuel’s strategy of keeping the congressional majorities happy and building up small achievements into a substantial body of legislation.”

NYTM: “Along the way, he became a champion of the small-bore initiatives that Clinton used to revive his presidency, reasoning that enough modest achievements add up to something big — an approach Obama has largely resisted.”

People Joking About Emanuel’s Freak Middle Finger:
TNR: “As Phil Kellam, one of Emanuel’s star recruits from the 2006 election cycle, recently joked to me, ‘If you could sum up Rahm Emanuel, it would be: big ideas, big mouth, big heart, little finger.’ (Emanuel lost half his middle finger in a teenage accident.)”

NYTM: “[Obama] recalled the teenage accident with a fast-food meat slicer that cost Emanuel part of his middle finger, joking that it rendered him ‘practically mute.’”

Emanuel As Practitioner of the “Dark Arts”:
TNR: “On the right, there is a tendency to view him as a kind of Democratic Karl Rove — a brilliant if diabolical operative who excels in the dark art of psychological warfare.”

NYTM: “But if picking the leading practitioner of the dark arts of the capital was a Faustian bargain for Obama in the name of getting things done, why haven’t things got done?”

At 50, Emanuel Is a Physical Specimen:
TNR: “At 50, Emanuel has the lean, taut look of a lifelong swimmer, with broad shoulders and distractingly prominent quadriceps.”

NYTM: “At 50, he has the coiled energy of aides half his age, still as wiry thin as he was during his improbable days as a ballet dancer.”

Emanuel Does Not Complain About Obama to Paul Begala:
TNR: “‘I’ve talked to Rahm every day,’ says his friend Paul Begala. ‘In the year and a month, whatever it’s been, I’ve never heard him complain about the president.’”

NYTM: “‘In hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of conversations with him since he took the job, he has never, not even once, complained about the president,’ Begala told me.”

How to Write a Rahm Emanuel Profile