Saturday, January 2, 2016

Democrats We Don't Need: Rahm Emmanuel's Race to the Bottom

Hey, Rahm, it's time you started thinking about life after politics.

The long knives are finally out for Rahm Emmanuel, as a well-deserved comeuppance is shaping around him, well covered by noted writer Rick Perlstein in the current New Yorker magazine.

I liked him in the Clinton days -- without knowing much of his dealings in the background -- but became suspicious of him in his stint running the DCCC, which is charged with getting Democrats elected to the House. His favorite candidate was usually a blue dog, a tactic now blamed for how quickly the Dems took power in 2006 and 2008 and how far self-same Dems fell in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Perlstein, beyond a takedown of Emmanuel's Chicago ways, goes for the jugular for his mishandling of congressional politics.
After Washington, Emanuel made eighteen million dollars in two and a half years as an investment banker. (His buddy Rauner helped get him his job.) He came back home—although diehards will insist that Emanuel isn’t really a Chicagoan, having grown up in suburban Wilmette—and won a congressional seat in 2004. His next step was chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in charge of recruiting House candidates. In 2006, he got credit when Democrats took back the lower chamber. One Democratic strategist from California who saw him working a room of worshipful admirers shortly afterward marvelled, “Inside the Beltway, Rahm is like … well, not Dylan or Madonna but maybe Britney or Paris.”
But that achievement disintegrates the more closely it’s examined. At the D-Trip, as the D.C.C.C. known, Emanuel aggressively recruited right-leaning candidates, frequently military veterans, including former Republicans. But many of his hand-picked choices fared poorly, losing in general elections. Some even lost in their primaries, to candidates backed by liberals—many of whom won congressional seats resoundingly, even after the D.C.C.C. abandoned them.
Victory, like defeat, can have a hundred fathers, and we can’t know what was ultimately responsible for the Democrats’ success that November. Anger at Republicans for the Iraq War (which Emanuel supported) certainly drove many voters’ decisions. What is indisputable is that the 2006 majority proved to be a rickety one. Critics argue that, even where Emanuel’s strategy succeeded in the short term, it undermined the party over time. One of his winners, the football star Heath Shuler, of North Carolina, would not even commit to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, and was one of many Rahm recruits to vote against important Obama Administration priorities, like economic stimulus, banking reform, and health care. Many are no longer congressmen. Some Democrats now argue that, in the long run, 2006 might have weakened the Party more than it strengthened it. “Rahm’s recruitment strategy” was “catastrophic,” the retired record executive Howie Klein, who helps run a political action committee that funds liberal congressional challengers, said, and it contributed to the massive G.O.P. majorities we have now, the biggest since the nineteen-twenties.
And don't forget, blue-dog Dems almost sank Obamacare by attempting -- and sometimes succeeding -- in weakening it beyond recognition, an effort spearheaded by Rahm in the White House, a sin he's already confessed. The blue dogs most definitely killed the public option.

This is a "don't let the door hit you in the ass" moment for Rahm Emmanuel, but more inept pols have squeaked out of worse scandals, so we may be in for a long goodbye from the Chicago mayor. Still, it's pretty apparent that Rahm's slow and steady ascent to the top is morphing into a race to the bottom. May he vanish as quickly as the black-neighborhood schools he unnecessarily closed in his Chicago heyday. Those who actually like real Democrats won't miss this phony one.

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