The Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky, who has covered Democratic politics in Chicago for years, looks at Rahm Emanuel’s appointment as Barack Obama’s chief of staff through the lens of the Daley Political Machine in a new Prospect piece. He is fascinated by the different approaches Emanuel and Obama took to rise to the top.
The key to understanding the differences between Emanuel and Obama is to analyze the circumstances under which they joined Daley’s team. For his part, Emanuel hooked up with Daley just about as soon as he could — back in the late 1980s, when he was barely 30 years old. . . . So thanks to Mayor Daley, Emanuel got to go to Congress, where he railed against Republican corruption and scandals, conveniently overlooking all the corruption and scandal in his hometown.
In contrast, Obama’s what passes for a reformer in Chicago — at least he took a longer, more circuitous path to winning Daley’s good graces. . . . He didn’t run with Daley, but he didn’t run against him either. He stayed away from local zoning and land-use fights that pitted his South Side neighbors against Daley. And he didn’t take a very strong stand against the countless patronage, bribery, or minority-front scandals that have plagued Chicago for the last decade or so. In short, Obama didn’t bother Daley and Daley didn’t bother him. . . .
So why is Obama hiring Emanuel as chief of staff? Probably for the same reason Daley hired him way back in 1989. He’s ruthless, cunning, and absolutely unafraid to be a jerk. In fact, I think Emanuel enjoys being a jerk. Moreover, by being a jerk, I predict Emanuel will do a great service for Obama. By the time Emanuel is finished irritating, humiliating, and infuriating folks in Washington, Obama will look like an angel. People will probably like him even more just because he’s not Emanuel.