11.16.08 Emanuel/Lieberman

Rahm Emanuel

Seemingly moments after the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, reliable lefty news source AlterNet had an article up entitled “Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection?” The article goes on to recount Emanuel’s hearty support for the Iraq War, big business, and aggressive hawkishness on Iran and Israel.  As if this weren’t enough to produce liberal hand-wringing, Rahm’s father Benjamin – an Israeli “militant” from the 1940s (= “terrorist” in American English, when the target is on our side) – gave an inflammatory interview to the Israeli media in which he bragged that his son would assure a pro-Israel foreign policy from Obama.  Mr. Emanuel the elder went on to suggest that Arabs are only fit to wash floors.


An Arab-American friend of mine promptly dashed off an email to friends and family saying she wished she had voted Green and declaring that Obama has already burned 20% of his goodwill.

Has our paradise really crumbled so quickly?

There are two parts to answering this question:

1. Is the Rahm Emanuel appointment really so terrible?  Well, there’s no question that I wouldn’t pick Emanuel to run US foreign policy or the Treasury, but it’s far from clear that he’ll be making policy in his White House role.  Previous chiefs of staffs have served as gatekeepers, traffic cops, and liaisons to Congress, things that no one questions Emanuel’s ability to do.

In judging this appointment, it is also interesting to note that some partisans on each side castigated/praised him for being highly partisan, while others commented on his great ability to communicate and work with political adversaries.

Bottom line: Emanuel is qualified for this job and we don’t know yet whether his personal views on some issues will outweigh his abilities.

2. How/when will we know that the skies are falling?  C’mon now, fellow lefties!  We’re not even two weeks from the election.  Isn’t it a bit early to read disaster into Obama’s every move (especially when the “move” is the outrageous behavior of a staff member’s relative)?  We know that Obama is more centrist than we are.  But are we to take his disagreements with us as purposeful slaps in the face, meant to disavow the entire left and each of us personally?

Just watch as Obama begins to reverse eight years of executive orders on torture, the environment, and domestic spying.  Watch as he prevents industry lobbyists from taking jobs overseeing the industries they lobbied for.  Watch as his judicial appointments no longer have to prove their biblical bona fides.

We are entering a new world, albeit imperfect.  This is not to say that Obama won’t disappoint us, sometimes gravely, or that we ought not fight for things that matter when he gets them wrong.  It is to say that the sky ain’t exactly falling.


Joe Lieberman

What an asshole!

(It feels so good to get that out of my system.)

Markos Moulitsa of Daily Kos, among others, is crusading to see that Lieberman gets his just desserts.  In my mind, public flogging and an eternity on a desert island with John McCain might suffice.  The punishment suggested by Kos is a bit more mundane: strip this traitor of his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.

Regarding the substance of the matter, Lieberman has failed utterly as chair, failing to hold hearings on Hurricane Katrina and exercising zero oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.  On those grounds alone, it would make sense to put someone else in that role.

Of course, the substance is not what’s really being debated here.  How can the Dems leave in any powerful position a man who not only spent the last two years trashing (TRASHING!) our presidential candidate, but also campaigned vigorously for other Republicans?!

Well, there’s the little tactical consideration that Lieberman (political whore that he is) is threatening to leave the Democratic caucus entirely if he doesn’t get to keep his committee chair.  (“I’ll take my marbles and give ‘em to my new best friends, the GOP!” cries little Joey.)  And there’s the other little matter of needing 60 votes to break filibusters.

Of course, even counting Lil Joey, our heroes appear very unlikely to get to 60 seats.  Begich is going to beat Stevens-the-Convicted Felon in Alaska (it will be official next week).  Franken has about 40/60 odds of pulling out a handful-of-votes victory in Minnesota (we’ll know that by April or so).  But few believe that Saxby Chambliss (aka, the Sleaze Bag Who Declared War-Hero Triple-Amputee Max Cleland to Be Unpatriotic) will lose his runoff election in December, leaving the Dems (including Lieberman) at 58 or 59.

But there’s an even larger issue: how many cloture votes go by party lines?  In other words, what is to guarantee that Lieberman will vote with the Dems on cloture even if he is still caucusing with them or not vote with them if he joins the GOP?  Or, why wouldn’t we be able to get Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, or other vulnerable moderate Republicans on our side now and again?

I just don’t think that 60 is such a magic number: the way the Senate works, coalitions are built on individual issues.  Where Joe Lieberman sits won’t change that.

So, I say punish the bastard.  I’ve written to my senators (here and here) urging them to vote against him in a secret ballot coming up this week and hope you’ll do the same.  Just to be clear: this vote will be to relieve him of his chairmanship, not kick him out of the caucus.  He’ll decide on his own whether petulance owns the day and whether he wants to go hang out with his fellow fundamentalists or not.

©2008 Keith Berner

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12 Comments on “11.16.08 Emanuel/Lieberman”

  1. jerry berner Says:

    I agree with you on both issues of your most recent blog. Of course you know that Emanuel aplogized for his father’s intemperate statements about Arabs. I would not hold Rahm responsible for his militant father’s positions. Let us wait to see how Emanuel performs in his own right as Obama’s Chief of Staff. We all wish him well. No, the sky isn’t falling. I also agree that Lieberman should be stripped of his committee chairmanship. During the campaign he couln’t have been more Republican. To fit with his own convictions he probably she leave the Democratic party (Oh, I know that he calls himself an independent — but how does he perform !).


  2. Cove Says:

    Oy vey, I want my money back.

    For all the gelt I gave him and tsoriss I went through campaigning for him I now feel like a lokh in kop (hole in the head). Better I should have voted for the Goy.

    I voted for the shvartz because I thought he was a mensch. I thought he would be glaykh (even) in the Holy Land and around the world. But his appointment of Rahm Emamuel was like a zetz to the kiska. Did you hear what his terrorist father, Benjamin Emanuel, called Arabs? FLOOR CLEANERS. Oy gavalt!

    With the appointment of Axelrod, Emanuel and Ron Klain it seems the whole mishpocha is there and it also seems like it is “Gai kakhen afenyan” to the Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and peace movement in Israel (delicately translated: go jump in the ocean).

    And now it looks like we get a yenta (Clinton) for Sec. of State and a luftmensh for President. I think it is totally fercockt. What is Obama giving the Arab-Americans, the American Peace Movement, and the Latino-Americans? Gornisht!


  3. Seth Berner Says:

    Curmudgeon, here. The problem with the Emanuel appointment is precisely that he does not make policy. It could be said with some basis that a Secretary of [fill in the blank] needs to know something about [blank], but the Chief of Staff needs only think like the President so that the President can count on that person to act in accordance with the President’s values and priorities. Short of choosing Lieberman there are not many people who did not expressly support Bush policies Obama could have selected who would be more dismaying to those who think that policy change is not just a campaign slogan but an imperative. Of course we will wait and see what will happen – what else can we do? – but Obama knew that his actions would be judged by their immediate impact, and on that score he has thus far only enforced my belief that his election was a relief but not in any way, shape or form other than symbolic a lifting of the darkness. Just as I will make some assumptions and draw some conclusions about the woman with whom I am on a first date (rhetorically speaking), my first impression of Obama is that I am not sure I am going to like spending a lot of time with him, however much an improvement he may be over the last dreadful dinner companion.

    As for Lieberman: take away his chairmanship if he is not good at it. Otherwise, I’m not interested in partisan politics. I’m particularly unimpressed with a suggestion that the Democrats have standards or values as a Party that Lieberman does not adhere to.

    Finally, Susan Collins just won reelection by the biggest margin of her career, and will not need to face a challenger for another six years. Olympia Snowe is safe for another four years. Neither is vulnerable to anything. While Snowe has shown slightly more independence than Collins both Maine Senators (who, living in Maine myself, I know too well) sided with President Bush over 80% of the time, their portrait in the press notwithstanding. What leads one to believe that either is more likely to side with a “Democratic” position than is Lieberman?


  4. KMP Says:

    I was quite dismayed by the selection of this attack-dog Clintonista to be Obama’s right-hand man. I sent the Alternet piece to Keith and to the other group I regularly participate in. Wow! Not since the last episode of the Sopranos had they erupted so! (I think many of them felt I ruined their Honeymoon and the truth is I did feel badly about that, but didn’t believe it was exactly my fault!) So having survived several days of roiling conflict on the subject of RE, I am now clear on just what bugged me about the appointment. It’s not because Emmanuel is rude, aggressive and boorish. I imagine those traits will come in handy. My problem is that he was instrumental in pushing the worst of Bill Clinton’s MOR policies – NAFTA, welfare reform, the crime bill. I thought, “If I’d wanted another Clinton in the White House, I would have voted for Hillary.” But then I heard that RE has supported universal health care and worked with Hillary on her health care effort. So now my attitude is: Go figure. And stay tuned.

    As for turncoat Joe, I’m with ya, Keith!


  5. Seth Berner Says:

    I have to add that this anti-Lieberman witchhunt terrifies me. So we now have a philosophical litmus test for membership in a party? Just what does the Democratic Party stand for? Nancy Pellosi, who used her power in the last two years to tell us all the issues inconvenient to the Bush administration that were off the table? Meaning that Dennis Kucinich and others who dared stand up to her should be stripped of whatever regard they have within the Party? I have spent the last year saying that I felt that Obama was a poor choice for president, and for much of that was actively campaigning against him by campaigning for someone else; since his nomination I have said nothing more positive about him than that he would get my vote because I could not risk a McCain election. Am I next to be tarred and feathered?

    The reality is that the Democratic Party owes a great deal to Lieberman. He was rejected by the Democratic voters of CT and thereafter (and to a degree before) more or less written off by the Democratic Party. He had philosophical differences with the national Democratic Party, and likely has been more aligned with the philosophy of the Republicans. He had good reasons to caucus with the Republicans. What would the balance of power for the last two years have been if he had? But he didn’t! It’s very easy to cast him out now that the Dems have a safe lead in the Senate. But we were very glad to have his partisanship when we needed it.

    I say again: if Lieberman did a poor job as a committee chair then strip him of his power for being inept. But if a philosophical litmus test can be used to remove from power someone who is already there then you have just given approval to the purging of the US Attorneys office. I for one will never ever give that approval.


  6. Leon Morse Says:

    Keith, I think you were a little lenient on Lieberman with “eternity on a desert island with John McCain might suffice.” I’d think more like Ann Coulter would do the trick nicely. And Seth, I think it is more than a matter of Joe in disagreement with his party; it was the fact that he not only endorsed McCain, but stuck with his campaign through to the bitter, slanderous end. If some day committee chairs are handed out to those most qualified, regardless of party, then your point is valid. Until that day, however, the parties are going to assign them based on their own criteria, and loyalty is simply one. Lieberman had to nkow he was playing a game that could cost him his chair, so I can’t imagine he’ll be hurt that much to lose it.

    As for Rahm as chief of staff, I suspect he was picked as an organizational man and an enforcer internally. So as far as that goes, I think him a plus. As far as our policy with Israel goes, I can’t imagine him making things worse, and I have a hard time believing that in Obama’s first term–Emanuel or no–our policy would change to begin holding Israel accountable and not simply being blind supporters of them. Hopefully Obama’s outward attitude will be more open and policy in other nearby areas more informed so as to begin to relax some tensions. After all, it’s not all about Israel in the Middle East (a lot is, but not all).


  7. Lisa Welsh Kovack Says:

    Keith and Leon are both being too lenient on Lieberman. I think eternity on a desert island might too closely resemble his average vacation. Now eternity in frozen Wasilla, Alaska, within ear shot yet just out of reach of Palin, with McCain and Coulter, might be more appropriate. Seth, philosophical litmus tests are implicit in every party–that’s what separates parties from each other! If he no longer feels loyal to the Democratic party, and has consistently displayed this feeling to the world, well…I hope he likes Wasilla, snow, and mosquitoes.

    I’m also content to wait and see what happens with Rahm Emanuel. I’ll also come out and admit that I am still so starstruck with Obama that I will–gasp–trust him for awhile. I suspect he is smart enough to surround himself with qualified people. Emanuel certainly knows how to get things accomplished in DC, maybe he can play bad cop in positive ways. Seth, I love your analogy of passing judgment on a first date. First impressions matter, thats absolutely true, and your point is all well and good, yet, picking what looks like the best and most beautiful on the surface might after awhile turn out to be less than perfect and vice versa. If you want a lasting and meaningful relationship, you’re going to have to accept some unpleasant qualities in exchange for overall stability! Also, the unfortunate reality is that one needs attack-dogs in the world of politics. You just need to unleash them on the right things.

    Lastly–and Keith knows this!–I would be the LAST person to judge anyone by what their father says.


  8. Leon Morse Says:

    Well the Democrats chose to be adults and let bygones be bygones. I hope that behind closed doors they all got to wail on Lieberman with fraternity paddles. Senators get those, right?


  9. Tim Gibson Says:

    Rahmbo will be solid in his role. Not worried about that at all….for reasons Leon The Bludgeoner writes. I wanted Liberman to get kicked out of the caucus, lose his chaimanship etc. But I also am not too mad that he was not as it really looks like Obama wants to work with moderate republicans (see his overtures to McCain) and keeping Joementum in the fold was a big part of this. Who cares about 60…not at issue here. At issue here is having Obama get a lot of left of center policies through with votes of around 65 or 70. This is not largely due to keeping Joementum in the fold, but due to our economy right now, but keeping Joementum in the fold only helps.

    P.S. I am pissed that Joe Stieglitz is not in the administration yet. Smartest man i have ever read, met or pissed in the same bathroom as. He is a true progressive and we could use one or two of those along with the Lawrence Summers types.


  10. Leon Morse Says:

    What? No posts on the selection of Clinton as Sec. State? Shocking.


  11. Lisa Welsh Kovack Says:

    yes, shocking. Post, post, post!


  12. Leon Morse Says:

    Now the Blagojevich story’s cold and. . .still silence.


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