An astonishing piece of political journalism appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post. Not astonishing for the scoop or hard work it evinced, although the reporter, Jason Horowitz, is a very good one. Astonishing for how it may have gotten into the paper in the first place. For what it says about the feuds within the Obama administration. And most of all for what it tells us about how wisdom is defined in this town.<...>
So I can't say that Emanuel planted it. But like the Milbank column, it has little scoops that seem to come either from Emanuel or people in his corner.
The gist of the piece: Emanuel understands Washington, and the rest of the White House people, including Obama himself, do not. Rahm knew how to deal with Congress. Rahm understood that trying to close Gitmo was lightning in a bottle.
He saw that giving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a civilian trial would unleash political fury. He wanted a smaller and more passable health bill and urged the ditching of the public option. And – this one is new, as far as I know – he happily chipped the stimulus down by $100 million at Olympia Snowe's insistence.
So here's the real import of all of this. The implicit message of this piece, from the headline on down, is that these Emanuel positions represent reason, common sense, wise judgment. Axelrod and the others are a bunch of lightweight dreamers.
Well, maybe. As I said when I discussed the Milbank piece, I do think that presidents need to surround themselves with people who aren't intensely personally loyal and who can exercise independent judgment.
And yet: you can call trying to close Gitmo and pass a major healthcare overhaul dreaming. But you can also call them fulfilling campaign promises. Trying to keep campaign promises isn't really a bad thing. Isn't it one of the constant complaints about politicians that they promise things and never deliver. Furthermore, substantively, most economists agreed that the stimulus was too small. So why was making it even smaller the better part of wisdom?<...>
Obama needs an Emanuel-like figure around him. And he needs operate within political limits, at times. But at other times, he needs to do the right thing and not worry about what Lindsey Graham is going to say. Leaks like those in this article establish a narrative in which the right thing is by definition the naïve thing. That may be good for a certain category of Washington conventional-wisdom arbiter, but it isn't good for the country.