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.
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