What Does Obama’s Selection of Rahm Emanuel Signal?

by Dr. David Gruder

When I first learned that Rahm Emanuel had accepted President-Elect Obama’s invitation to become his chief of staff I was concerned. "Rahmbo," as he has been called, is a pit bull whose confrontive hardball style is the opposite of Obama’s more measured, stately and inspiration-oriented style. On top of that, he is a veteran of the Clinton adminstration and I didn’t think that Obama had beaten Hillary Clinton in the primaries so he could install another Clinton adminstration.

I’m now glad that I did not write a post based on these initial reactions, because upon deeper reflection I’m beginning to see some wisdom in Obama’s choice.

The White House chief of staff is one of the most powerful positions in Washington, with huge influence over who is appointed tto various government roles to policy negotiations to being one of the key administration mouthpieces with Congress.

What Emanuel brings to this post is a combination of significant executive and legistlative branch experience. He has been a rising three-term star as an emerging leader in the House of Representatives.

Where Obama might be viewed as a vision-oriented idealist, Rahm is the opposite. He is a pragmatist who possesses the combination of being an excellent strategic thinker and an effective tactition. He thus now seems to me like a wise choice in terms of Obama’s commitment to surround himself with people who are strong in areas where he is weak.

Rahm is also widely viewed as a Centrist (despite House Minority Leader John Boehner’s protestations to the contrary), which may be the first validation of my prediction that Obama is going to disappoint liberals and surprise conservatives.

Here are two quotes from Republicans that back up what I am saying:

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham (one of McCain’s strongest supporters and allies): "He’s tough but fair. Honest, direct and candid. These qualities will serve President-Elect Obama well."

Republican Representative Tom Davis (retiring at the end of this year): "I can’t think of a better choice. What’s the old saying? You campaign in poetry but you govern in prose? He understands the poetry but he can translate it into prose. He’s a practical guy who understands politics as well as policy."

As a secondary note, since Rahm is Israeli-born, I believe that his being selected is an implicit message that Israel’s interests will be well-represented in the White House, contrary to the fears that some who voted against Obama had.

Rahm Emanuel is a getting-things-done kind of guy who has the background and the centrism necessary to effectively navigate relations between the executive and legislative branches. Despite my initial reaction to his selection, he appears to be just the kind of person Obama needs in a chief of staff. So far so good.

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