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The [Rahmbo] Papers

Rahm Emanuel is certainly the Man of the Hour in American politics at the moment - partly because he deserves to be and partly because he's a pro at managing the media. Let's take a look.

Architect of the Tribune
The Tribune called Emanuel "Architect of a Turnaround" on its front page on Sunday, promoting its special "insider" report recounting Emanuel's role in last week's takeover of the U.S. House as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Tribune got access to Emanuel for months in return for not publishing anything until after the election.

This was to Emanuel's advantage, of course. Placing another reporter inside the operation of Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean would have produced a fuller report - and very different view of the campaign. Instead, we got "The House That Rahm Built."

Not to diminish Emanuel's considerable if repugnant political skills, but the hyperbole and spin is stifling. Let's take a look.

* Just for starters, did Emanuel really, as the Tribune claims, remake the Democratic Party in his own image? I mean, stop and think about that for a second. It's laughable on its face. It's nonsense. Besides, Emanuel is described in the article as an incredibly unlikable, profane, ruthless operative. I don't think the Democrats have become that quite yet.

* Who deserves more credit, Emanuel or Dean? The Trib says Emanuel while its reporting shows Dean. The paper gives Emanuel credit for recruiting "candidates who could mount tough challenges in some of the reddest patches of America." But, as the paper recounts, it was Dean who insisted on a 50-state strategy and Emanuel who "felt Dean's strategy wasted money in unwinnable places." Like the reddest patches in America?

* "For all his forcefulness, Emanuel was not responsible for the political climate, either the failing war or the sex and corruption scandals racking the Republican Party," the Trib says. "But with creative recruiting, unremitting fundraising and a national message, he positioned the Democrats to exploit that collapse."

Again, follow the logic: If Dean pushed a 50-state strategy and Emanuel pushed a swing-district strategy, it would follow that Dean put the party in a position to exploit the Republican collapse, not Emanuel.

* Emanuel "muscled weaker Democrats out of races in favor of stronger ones." This statement by the Trib assumes that the candidates Emanuel rejected were indeed weaker than the ones he backed. But using the Tammy Duckworth campaign as an example backfires. The paper notes that Emanuel trained all the big guns at his disposal, including George Stephanopoulos and David Axelrod, at Christine Cegelis in Illinois' Sixth District. "Cegelis could not compete with this, losing 44 percent to 40 percent to Duckworth in the March primary," the Trib reports. But those numbers clearly show Cegelis could compete - she only lost by four percent going up against the party's own campaign committee chair! As a war amputee, Duckworth was an international sensation. Yet, she only increased the percentage of the vote Cegelis got two years ago by 4.5 percent - and only garnered 1.5 percent more than John Kerry got in the district in 2004 - in an election year in which the war was front-and-center. Not only that, but she lost to a conservative - not a moderate - in a district trending to the center.

* And those ballyhooed candidate recruiting skills? "Emanuel and his staff judged a candidate almost entirley by how much money he or she brought in," the Trib reported.

Rahm vs. the Netroots
Did Emanuel remake the Democratic Party in his own image? Did he recruit the Dem candidates that put his party over the top? From The New York Times on Sunday:

"[O]nline activists also gave some once-underrated candidates - like the Senate candidates Jon Tester and Jim Webb, in Montana and Virginia, respectively, and the House candidates Paul Hodes in New Hampshire and Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania - a chance to be taken seriously. All ending up winning on Tuesday . . .

"Mr. Webb, for example, was essentially drafted last winter by a network of national and Virginia-based netroots activists . . . in some cases the party even got behind some netroots-favored candidates that it had previously ignored or discouraged."

Guess who did the discouraging and ignoring?

So how did Rahm's candidates do? Let's take a look.

* Here's one scorecard.

* The 50-State Strategy.

* Last Laugh Belongs to Dean.

* And yet, Emanuel blames Dean for not pumping even more money into Duckworth's race.

* The vindication of Howard Dean also tells a different story than the one told by the Tribune.

* For all its access got them, some of the material in the Tribune story already appeared in June in Time magazine - an article in which Dean said: "We're going to win some races in places people don't expect with this 50-state strategy." Dean's strategy, it was noted, ran counter to "the highly tactical approach that Emanuel has pursued, which is to pick winnable districts and candidates who can win them."

* The Trib article describes Emanuel as privately happy that Bush didn't fire Rumsfeld before Election Day, and shows him shifting strategy on the war to exploit increasing violence in Iraq. All in the best interests of Americans, of course.

* The Time article also said "Leaders of the House's black and Hispanic caucuses recently got so fed up with Emanuel over his reluctance to hire minority consultants for the fall campaign that they appealed to Pelosi to intervene, and she is working on brokering a truce."

* Pelosi calls Emanuel "cold-blooded;" Bob Novak calls him "too abrasive to be well-liked by colleagues."

* To his credit, he supported Forrest Claypool for Cook County board president.

* And he talks a good game: "I want to get moving out of what I call this wageless recovery. And I want to attack the problems on retirement, education, health care, because I don't want to bring out the old voices of the status quo just for old time's sake. And so, none of those ideas, whether you make children's health care universal, is small. It's accomplishable, and that - in and of itself - is worth looking at."

* He just doesn't walk it.

* He also made $18 million in two years as an investment banker between his stint in the Clinton Administration and his election to Congress. With no previous investment banking experience.

* "In the 2004 national election, an innocent voter could be forgiven for concluding that the Democrats' unifying principle was not how much we wanted to transform the country but how much we wanted to beat the other side. All we seemed to care about was winning - and consequently, we weren't very good at that, either. We didn't take a chance on our own ideas, for fear of losing. Instead of truly looking for answers to the country's problems, we hired consultants to look for slogans."

- Rahm Emanuel, in The Plan

"Winning is everything."

- Rahm Emanuel, in real life.

Comments welcome.


Posted on November 13, 2006

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