Obama’s Chief of Staff

As far as I know, Rahm Emanuel hasn’t officially accepted Obama’s job offer yet, but it is widely assumed that he will.

What does this crucial first pick say about an Obama presidency? I don’t yet know enough about Emanuel to form a complete opinion. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more about him in the days to come. Here’s what I do know:

He’s a career politician, not surprisingly. He worked as a staff member for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee back in the 80s and was named the Chair of that committee after he was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2002. He worked on Clinton’s presidential campaign and served as the Assistant to the President for Political Affairs and later as Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy. He was an investment banker from 1999 – 2002 and then ran for (and won) an open seat in the US House of Representatives serving Illinois.

I think Emanuel can fairly be described as a liberal. He is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-environment, and pro-separation of church and state. He supports requiring the hiring of more women and minorities, the expansion of health care coverage, replacing coal and oil with renewable alternatives, a more progressive tax policy, providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, drug enforcement, allowing churches to provide welfare services, the expansion of free trade, stricter limits on political campaign funds, and pulling the US out of Iraq. He opposes mandatory three strikes sentencing laws, the absolute right to gun ownership, the privatization of social security, the voucher system that would allow parents to choose public schools, the Patriot Act, and expansion of the Armed Forces. (For source, click here.) He has voted with his party 98% of the time, although I choose to believe (as I do with all politicians) that he does so because his values coincide with the party of which he is a member.

Given this information, I can’t say that I’m personally disappointed with the appointment. My views on national policies are closely aligned with Emanuel’s policy stances. Further, he has White House administrative experience coupled with legislative experience. I think this will significantly help Obama navigate the office of the presidency. It’s probably safe to say that everyone left of center on the political spectrum is happy with the choice.

But what about moderates and conservatives? Obama ran a campaign based on optimism and the idea of post-partisan politics. Should his first appointment have been a Republican? An Independent? Someone who has a strong history of crossing party lines? Perhaps. I’m sure many conservatives see this as a justification of what they fear will be the most liberal administration in a generation.

I’m holding out my judgments, though. Perhaps this is due to my faith in Obama to make the right decisions for our country. Everything I’ve learned about Obama leads me to conclude that he is a pragmatist, not an idealogue. I think that, ultimately, if we try to find consistency in his actions along the typical “liberal – conservative” spectrum, he will appear inconsistent. I believe that he’ll do what he thinks is necessary to get things done. I predict that some of his decisions will appear excessively liberal while others will appear excessively conservative (or at least moderately conservative). And the fact that this is only his second presidential decision (Biden being his first…and a very good one, I might add), coupled with my feeling that Emanuel was chosen based on his experience and not just on his ideology, leads me to hold my judgment until I see more of Obama’s decisions.


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