Sunday, January 8, 2012

Does Obama have a Rahm Problem?

As a January 11 collision in Chicago approaches -- an incumbent president "coming home" to rally his supporters on the very day that Chicago is at the forefront of a national mobilization to challenge the acceleration of detention and civil liberties violations under Obama -- a crack in the Obama re-election campaign narrative is emerging.

Up to now, the story has been that of a too-good-for-his-own-good President who needed his backbone stiffened by political tough guys. Exhibit A: Rahm Emanuel. In other words, the good-cop, bad-cop narrative.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
(Photo: MSNBC)

But in recent days, there have been signs that the re-election campaign sees the need to cut the bad cop adrift.

First came an op-ed piece Friday in the Chicago Tribune by Marilyn Katz, a prominent promoter of Obama's political ascendancy ("Reining in those pesky protesters: Ironies of history and lessons for the future"). Katz took Emanuel to task for "restriction of citizen voice and making a mockery of transparency" in a series of ordinance changes that affect freedom of expression in Chicago.

Then came a Saturday New York Times story that posited a sharp divide between President Obama and Emanuel, due to mishandling of interactions with the first lady Michelle Obama ("Michelle Obama and the Evolution of a First Lade"). According to the story, Emanuel had so antagonized the First Family that he felt the need to offer his resignation as Chief of Staff in 2010. According to the new revisionist history being peddled by the Times, "Later Mr. Emanuel would glide into the Chicago mayor’s office, partly on the basis of his strong ties to Mr. Obama, but by a year into the administration, his relationship with the president had grown strained. While he relied heavily on Mr. Emanuel, especially in dealing with Congress, Mr. Obama told advisers that he had concerns about his chief of staff’s overall management and planning skills, along with his outbursts toward staff members. Mr. Emanuel openly said that he thought the health care overhaul had been a bad idea, and after accounts of his views began to surface in the news media in early 2010, he went into the Oval Office and offered his resignation to Mr. Obama, according to several colleagues."

The idea that Rahm is on the outs with Obama would sure come as news to most people in Chicago, where the fires of the Obama-Rahm Democratic political dynasty myth are stoked daily. (Surely it will come as news to Rahm.)

Why has the Obama re-election campaign decided to cut Rahm loose?

It has long been known that Rahm Emanuel was front and center at some of the most troubling decisions of the Obama administration. Take, for instance, Obama's promise to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Center and "restore the rule of law." As a winter 2010 analysis of Obama security policy ("Obama’s War Over Terror") pointed out, Emanuel is "said to think that the politics of these decisions were being mishandled and that fights over detention policy used up political capital better spent on priorities like health care and the economy." In other words, the Consitution is important, but not as important as getting health care passed. And, in fact, for a very long time, the conventional wisdom has been that the American people only care about their own health care and their paychecks -- civil liberties and human rights be damned -- and the Rahm Emanuel worldview was been viewed as, well, sadly accurate.

wink wink . . .
("Permanent Temporary Protest Rules")
(Scott Stantis cartoon from Chicago Tribune, Sunday, January 8, 2012.)

Now, however, Rahm appears to be turning what was supposed to be a prime Presidential Moment -- the May 2012 Chicago summit of NATO and G8, at which Obama will preside, in the President's own "home town" and headquarters of his 2012 re-election campaign, no less -- into a fiasco. The anti-liberty ordinances that Emanuel has introduced, far from laying the foundation for a uniquely peaceful & robust civic event in May, threaten to provoke a replay of the mayhem of Boss Daley's 1968. Civil liberties activists in Chicago -- and, presumably soon, the rest of the country -- are up in arms.

Now that civil liberties are becoming the talk of the town, can Obama possibly maintain ties to the man who has made himself the lightning rod for progressives in what was supposed to be Re-election 2012's home base?

After all, wasn't he set up to be the fall guy all along?

"The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter"
Sam Spade has "the Gunsel" pegged in The Maltese Falcon
(Wilmer Cook (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) from IMDB)

Or is it too late for that? The January 11 protests are rapidly turning into a referendum on Obama's support for the N.D.A.A. and its provisions to detain anyone, anywhere, anytime. People around the country are waking up to the civil liberties threat they live under in Obama's U.S.A.; it's not just a Chicago problem.

It's beginning to look like maybe Obama can't jettison his baggage fast enough.

Related posts

With the ignominious exit of the G8 from Chicago, I can't help but think that Herblock would have had just the right way of characterizing their departure.

(See Where's Herblock When You Need Him? )

Emanual has now introduced changes in local law to sharply limit the rights of Chicagoans and others to express dissent.

(See Welcome to Chicago! You're Under Arrest. )

Rahm has a simple formula for free expression:




(Got a problem with that?)

(See Rahm's Three "NOs" )