Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rahmbo? (II)

There's a front page article in today's WaPo on Rahm's influence in the administration. It builds on this Dana Milibank column from a few days ago.

Basically, the thrust is that Obama should be paying more attention to Rahm. Sources say Rahm has been pushing for a pared down health care bill, which I wrote about previously. He also has been pushing the "pivot to jobs earlier" meme that's been getting a lot of play in the press. Ezra Klein has a good post on why Rahm is wrong on both accounts. Basically, health care is inches from the goal line, and taking a risk on major overhaul is a much better route to go than pushing incremental reforms that won't actually fix the problem.

On jobs, it's pretty clear that congress isn't going to pass another big stimulus, so pivoting to jobs would basically have been symbolic. Obama saying "jobs, jobs, jobs" isn't going to make the unemployment rate go down. The "bipartisan" jobs bill was a bunch of tax cuts for the rich, which wouldn't do much to create jobs, and the bill that passed is a small, targeted payroll tax break for small businesses when they hire new workers. Most think this will only work on the margins. Pivoting earlier would not have changed the fact that congress isn't all that interested in more stimulus spending.

Klein doesn't delve much into the third point, which is that Rahm wanted Obama to keep open the use of military tribunals for detainees from Gitmo. Basically, Obama, Holder, and Axelrod were arguing that the principle of upholding America's laws and values meant they should try KSM and others in civilian courts. Rahm was arguing that in order to get Lindsey Graham on board, KSM needed to be tried in a military court. Since Graham isn't the ranking member on any relevant committees, I've no idea why Emanuel thought he was so important. Obama and Holder wanted to stand on principle, Axelrod understands what legacy Obama wants to have as president, and he backed them. Rahm's position seems like the wrong one again.

At the end of the day, had Obama listened to Rahm on these issues, he would be on track to be a president with a 50% approval rating, for a party that's going to lose a bunch of seats in the midterms, and has very few legislative accomplishments. As is, he's in basically the same situation, but is reasserting America's position as a country of laws and ideals, and is very close to passing the most wide-reaching piece of social legislation since LBJ.

I'm not sure why Rahm gets this love, but listening to him on every issue wouldn't have changed the fact that unemployment is at 10%, so Americans are angry at their government. If health care reform passes, he will have been completely wrong. Klein has a follow-up on how policy is trumping politics in the White House. I'm with him in calling that a Good Thing.

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