In the Arena


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Sometimes Washington is just too weird and confusing even for those of us who, for a living, try to understand the place. For example, I am completely mystified by the current spate of stories about Rahm Emanuel. Here’s today’s edition, a good one by the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber. Yesterday’s was a long profile in the Washington Post. The snowball was set in motion by a now-notorious column by Dana Milbank, also in the Post.

The thrust of all these pieces are essential the same: Rahm has been a positive force for political realism in the White House, but the President hasn’t always taken his advice–according to today’s piece, Obama apparently allowed Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus to dither around for three months, attempting to get Republican support for health reform.

The immediate question is, who planted this harvest? The consensus is: not Rahm. Too brazen, too stupid. He’d never blow his own horn like this. Friends of Rahm, maybe? Maybe, especially after the left-blogosphere efforts to denigrate Emanuel as a centrist sell-out, the prime mover of Obama’s wishy-washitude. Former friends in the Congress, upset with the Administration’s recent performance? Quite possibly.

The more important question is, are there real strains debilitating the Obama White House? There are strains, to be sure–but debilitating? I don’t think so. This has been a very rough year. Some major issues–health care, the middle east–have been badly misplayed. The overall strategy has been problematic as well: the President just doesn’t seem tough enough (and by tough, I don’t mean angry–I mean adept at the use of power). But given all that, the level of backbiting seems remarkably tame…even in the Rahmadan articles, there are no devastating–or even flea-bite–attacks on the other major White House players.

But it’s time, in the great journalistic cycle of life, for a spate of stories about how things are going inside the White House, given the recent messes. And when journalists look for a colorful story in the White House, Emanuel is the obvious target–I mean, David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs and Valerie Jarrett are vehemently bland when dealing with the press and studiously loyal to the boss and each other. Rahm is loyal too, but not bland. I’ll devour every word written about the guy, especially the f-bomb neologisms. But I won’t mistake it for news. Neither should you.