Monday, December 21, 2009

Rahm’s Sleazy Strategy to Screw the Base

Jeffrey Feldman wrote a fascinating article on just how duplicitous Rahm Emanuel had been to get health care passed.  Put your breakables under lock and key, away from your computer, before reading this.

Rahm-Emanuel As frustrated as the base of the Democratic Party may be in this late stage of the health care reform battle, few have reflected on the force behind every legislative battle this year: Rahm Emanuel.

In a blunt remark to the Wall Street Journal, the White House Chief of Staff tipped his hand on how he planned to get 60 votes in the Senate: bring left-wing Democrats on board early to generate enthusiasm, then turn on them in the end game to woo conservatives.

In other words: Get 'em, then gut 'em.

Responding as to whether or not the White House was concerned about "noise" from liberals, (i.e., threats that liberals will "kill" rather than vote for a health care bill that includes a mandate, but no public option), Emanuel made two very telling statements.

First, Emanuel gestured to the vote tally by saying,"There are no liberals left to get." In other words: liberal Democrats committed to supporting the White House early in the game, such that Emanuel has long since given up in interested in the concerns of those who support left-wing Democrats.

Second, and in jarring contrast to his first statement in the Wall Street Journal interview, Emanuel then blamed liberal Democrats for every failure to pass a health care bill in the past, "Every time they've gotten close to the deal, they've passed up the opportunity and chosen to walk away from a particular [sic] where they've lost the forest for the trees." By referring to the liberal Democrats as "they," Emanuel makes it clear that to bring on conservative Democrats in the Senate, he is willing to split the party into two sides: those who are working to pass a health care bill, and those with a long record of blocking a bill--us and them.

Indeed, if we recall the way the health care bill was unfolded, the White House began by wrapping their early efforts in the most liberal of liberal Democratic packages: the image of Sen. Edward Kennedy. This early phase of the debate featured liberal Democrats in the Senate as a tactic for bringing in the base and generating enthusiasm. Certainly, health care reform was also Kennedy's legacy, but in terms of political strategy Kennedy was also Emanuel's early game outreach to the liberal base.

And once he "got" liberals, Emanuel turned his attention to conservatives.

Short of Emanuel calling liberal Democrats "socialists," it is difficult to imagine a more direct attack on early supporters of his own whip effort than his inflammatory statements in the Wall Street journal. Emanuel makes it clear that, at this late stage of the game, liberal Democrats will be castigated as the killers of health care reform throughout American history, if they dare to complain about discrepancies with earlier versions of the bill.

"Get 'em early, gut 'em later" is a strategy that leads to 60 votes and a base that feels like they have been sold down the river. And, yet, it leads to 60 votes. Thus, every legislative item on the Obama White House reform agenda has passed, while the base has slowly simmered to the boiling point.

Curiously, liberal and progressive members of the Democratic Party have felt the downside of Emanuel's strategy at a visceral level, but have not yet found an effective way to make it work to their advantage.

Most liberals and progressive in the Democratic base insist that Emanuel's "get 'em early, gut 'em later" strategy will lead only to Pyrrhic policy victories for the White House: legislation so compromised that party activists refuse to turn out the vote in 2010 and 2012.

And yet, if considered from a more tactical perspective, Emanuel's Wall Street Journal interview suggests that the base of the party suffers from a fundamental weakness when it comes to legislative negotiations: liberal idealism leads the base to sign on so early to White House reform efforts, that it forfeits any subsequent role in the critical end game.

Greater end game influence for liberals and progressives, in other words, is about strategy, not ideals--tactics, not rhetoric.

Given the likelihood that elected Democrats would rather stiff arm activists in their own base than be publicly accused by their own President of blocking health care reform--meaning that the current health care bill will likely be signed into law rather than killed--what can the base of the Democratic Party do to guarantee they have more end game influence in the next legislative battle?

As painful as it may seem, the best tactics just might come from the likes of Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman.

Learn from Lieberman? Just reading that suggestion is enough to make most liberals want to gauge out their own eyes in horror. And who can blame them. Lieberman has become the symbol of political egotism who has stood up and blocked reform.

And yet, both Nelson and Lieberman have managed to make themselves key players in the health care end game by following a few basic tactics. They stay relatively quiet early, keep an ace in the hole (such as, anti-government spending or an anti-abortion amendment), avoid inflammatory rhetoric in favor of seeing ten steps ahead in the whip count, and finally: they have been willing to step out late in the game to hold a bill hostage no matter how loudly their constituents and the media attacked them.

All of these techniques require party activists to engage in some efforts that have not, heretofore, been their strong suits: back room planning, anticipating the details of legislative fights, cultivating reciprocal relationships on Capital Hill, a well-run ground game, keeping one's card's close, cultivating the media, and--most importantly: good end game timing.

Such a complicated effort cannot happen overnight. By Christmas next year, however, liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party would have had plenty of time to take the first steps towards greater influence in reform legislation... [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Huffington Post>

I think part of the problem here is that, unlike some of the people Obama has foolishly chosen to advise him, and also unlike the entire leadership of the GOP, progressives tend to be honest and above board and expect the same in return.  It is now clear that will not happen.  I disagree with Feldman’s suggestion that we become more like LIEberman and ‘Coat-hanger’ Nelson, but we still need to admit that we’ve been suckered, lick our wounds, and learn from the experience.  In future, we need to draw our line in the sand early in the process and refuse to budge until near the end.  While I acknowledge that compromise is a necessary part of governance, we must avoid jumping on the band wagon until it becomes clear that we will get most of what we want in exchange for our support.

Many of you become upset at the mere mention of anything critical of President Obama.  Personally, I think that Obama meant what he said during his campaign.  However, we must all acknowledge that he has surrounded himself with advisors that share neither his ideals nor his integrity: Geithner, Axelrod, Summers, and worst of all, Emanuel.  We have until 2012 to convince Obama that, if he expects progressives to get out the vote for him and give him a second term, he needs to, at the very least, reign in his neoliberal advisors and demand that they give us our rightful place.  A better move would be to replace them with the progressive advisors that managed his campaign.  Obama would not be President without our efforts on his behalf.  He needs to be reminded of that.


Unknown said...

Obama didn't surround himself with the 'wrong' advisers, not according to his true agenda. When will y'all wake up to the fact that Obama is a charlatan? An educated and eloquent speaking GWB. Emmanuel doesn't make the final decisions on his own, Obama does.

As for your statement, "We have until 2012 to convince Obama that, if he expects progressives to get out the vote for him and give him a second term, he needs to, at the very least, reign in his neoliberal advisors and demand that they give us our rightful place.", Not for me. That is Obama's game plan; screw us over for the next couple of years, and then whine that he was hoodwinked and make grandiose promises like he did in the campaign. It won't work for me. He's got until 2010 or he can kiss my ass.

Jack Jodell said...

I was glad when Obama first named Emmanuel Chief of Staff. I thought it was an expert move as Emmanuel had proven himself to be a shrewd mover and shaker who got things done. I expected him to help Obama whip the Republicans into line to get his seemingly progressive agenda through Congress and passed into law. Instead, it appears we got a typical cynical Chicago machine-type politician who uses, manipulates and spits out anybody he can to get what he wants. I'm not as harsh on Obama as Brother Tim, and I still DO believe Obama has a fairly progressive agenda in some areas and is not a GWB carbon copy, but Emmanuel has shown himself to be a dirty piece of shit.

Unknown said...

(Actually Jack... I saw that one coming, but I really thought the ramrod would be Obama guiding Emanuel)

TC, thats always been a sound strategy, but the Dem's, unlike the Right / Repubs, are a majority of individual thinkers & leaders. While they struggle (always have) to honor consensus, the Republicans of the last 40 years have demonstrated group horde sociological think & leadership based primarily in the prosperous benefits of fear supported legislation & philosophy. I disagree also, that we 'take up' the dishonorable, controling , fearmongering tactics of despotism the "right wing" enjoys to subvert caucus-politics. TC - Obama specifically choose those Chicago politic thugs (exception Axelrod, who has proved flacid in his committement) to enable himself in office. He mad a very bad choice in the duplicitous nature of Emanuel. I, too, would swear he meant all he wrote and said to be elected. Like J. Carter, though, the office he felt he might change for the better, is wagging him by the tail... and probably has cost him another term. BUT
tomorrow is promised to no one. There is time here and opportunity... not sure for what after this stab in the back to the People who generously gave him the office of the President of the United States. I've cried at this. Really.

Randal Graves said...

Obama just needs a czar. If the Browns gig falls through, Mike Holmgren will be available.

TomCat said...

Brother, you may be right, but I'm not convinced. One day I'll write an editorial on how I think it happened.

Jack, when Emanuel became Chief of Staff, my first thought was, "Oh crap! The tail is going to wag the dog.

Gwen, I have too, really. Considering your choice of words, look at my reply to Jack.

Randal, even Holmgren would be an improvement.

Oso said...

Rahm seems to have lumped the Democrat base in with Palestinians,another group he holds in contempt.

Like I told Gwen,I voted for Nader cause I'd never vote for a war supporter,but I jumped on the bandwagon election night cause of the excitement in Oakland.We drove around honking our horns and high fiving.

I jumped back off two days later when he selected that scumbag Emmanuel as his Chief of Staff. I guess Netanyahu wasn't available.

Jo said...

"Personally, I think that Obama meant what he said during his campaign. However, we must all acknowledge that he has surrounded himself with advisors that share neither his ideals nor his integrity: Geithner, Axelrod, Summers, and worst of all, Emanuel."

When Obama won the Presidency, many people were concerned about his inexperience. However, everyone felt sure that he would surround himself with good advisors who would help him along while he "learned the ropes". It turned out to be just another hard lesson learned for the American people.

You elected a "pig in a poke", now you folks should start concentrating your efforts on finding a really good candidate for 2012, or you just may end up with Sarah Palin. Don't laugh -- it could happen. How often have I been wrong, Tom?

I agree with Brother Tim.

I am going to have a little button made up that I can wear saying "Told ya so..." But sadly, no one listens to the dumb blonde from Canada. ;-)

Unknown said...

OMfG! OSO makes me laugh like hell!

mary b said...

I agree that Progressives and Liberals are honest and straight forward. I, myself am like that and end up getting screwed for it instead of being respected.
I also belive that President Obama is the same way. And, obviously, he is surrounded by the ones who are sticking it to him. He needs to replace Rahm, Bernake, Summers and their ilk. Obama took them at their word. They turned out to be freakin liars. President Obama is an honerable man. But his staff is going to tarnish him beyond repair. And that will be the biggest tragedy.

mary b said...

Jake Jodell,

I agree.

mary b said...


I agree with you, too.

Oso said...

Blondes aren't dumb. Your always well thought out comments are proof of that!

Gwen thanks! I always hear peals of laughter whenever I leave the house. Glad at least some of it may be positive.

Wearing my LA hat in the Bay Area can be dangerous. Even the dyslexics think it's Alabama and show the hate.

Dave Dubya said...

We'll be lucky to see anything passed by this congress that is not corporate friendly. We have a right wing government. One party is the conservative right and the other is the radical right.

There is NO progressive element to speak of within the power structure. Liberal politicians are isolated and marginalized. The US Government is an engine of empire and corporate profiteering.

Oso said...

Dave Dubya,
Well said. Good article along those lines from Harpers.Link provided by Naked Capitalism.

Joe "Truth 101" Kelly said...

I probably should apologise to everyon for not seeing this from the start. The Chicago Democrats hated working with a Democrat governor. They always got along better with the republican. I should have been able to see that Rahm would be wearing himself out trying to work with the republcians he is comfortable working with.

God how could I have been so freaking blind?

Lisa G. said...

I agree with Brother Tim and Oso. Truth, I thought Rahm would go in there and kick Republican ass. Instead he has turned out to be just the opposite. Asshole.

Tao Dao Man said...

Well, Well, Well. LOL. To one and all.
Please remember one thing. It is the system that is broken. The people come and go. Yet, the system remains. There is where the problem is. THE EFFEN SYSTEM IS BROKEN. IMO; Single payer, medi care for all, or as i like to call it [SOCIALIZED MEDICINE] was never really in the cards. This was written by the Corps for the Corps. Just like everything else in The Corporate States of America. We are on the verge of existing in a fascist state. And the [Dems] and the [rethugs] keep arguing amongst themselves. Mean while our country is vaporizing in front of our eyes.

Unknown said...

On the verge???????

Tao Dao Man said...

Brother Tim; LMAO, --- Good eye.----Yes, i agree. I have been saying for some time now, that we exist under a one party rule. This regime will finally prove that to some of the die hard Dems. ----They [TPTB]select so we may elect--

Lisa Nanette Allender said...

So I'm here, because a very right-wing Facebook Friend claimed I read "liberal blogs" all the time, when in fact I seldom read blogs(lately). So...I headed to Brother Tim's blog(Blog of Revelation) and found a list of blogs he follows...which led me here.
Wonderful to see so many-like-minded folks.
I didn't know just. how. Progressive. I. am. until like, now...
I still love President Obama--for trying, but it seems many of you feel he's only trying uh, your patience.... Give him a year, please.
Peace to you, kids.

Oso said...

Welcome to TomCat's blog Lisa.Lot of good links to some interesting blogs too.I don't have one myself but post at MadMikesAmerica.
Happy Holidays!

TomCat said...

Oso, I would love to have seen that. Thanks for the link, and thanks for welcoming Lisa A.

Josie, I know you have hated Obama and wanted Hillary since early in the primaries, but after the primaries, would you rather we vote for McConJob and Wasilla Wacky? No disrespect top Canadians intended, but I certainly prefer Obama to your tin tyrant, Harper.

Me too, Gwen.

Mary, welcome to Politics Plus. I read your profile and can easily understand your circumstance (except for having to be in TN), because I am also disabled and poor. Until I finally won my SSDI appeal after three years of fighting, I often had to choose between medicine and food. Please consider yourself most welcome here.

Dave, I have always said that winning a progressive government is
a two step process. We still need to exterminate (politically, not violently)just a few more GOP alligators to start seriously draining the Democratic swamp.

Truth, back then most were so caught up on Obamamania that they were as intoxicated as teabaggers on GOP Kool Aid. I expected him to move to the center. I did not expect him to abandon his winning staff in favor of neoliberals.

Lisa G, I hoped he would, but suspected he would turn out just as he has.

RZ and Tim, I feel empathy for your ire, but the system is also stacked in such a way that the only way to reform it, short of violent revolution, which I oppose, is from within.

Welcome Lisa A. I hope you will be a frequent participant here. I am frustrated with many of Obama's choices so far, but if I could do it again, I would still vote for him, not McConJob and Mooseolini.