Rahm Emanuel’s vul­ture pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

David Ig­natius, the highly es­teemed jour­nal­ist at The Wash­ing­ton Post, wrote a re­veal­ing col­umn two weeks ago based on an ex­ten­sive in­ter­view with Demo­cratic con­gres­sional leader Rahm Emanuel. In fair­ness to both Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Ig­natius, I am go­ing to quote the note­wor­thy last two para­graphs in full and unedited:

“And here’s what Emanuel doesn’t want to do: fall into the po­lit­i­cal trap of chas­ing over­am­bi­tious or po­ten­tially un­pop­u­lar mea­sures. Ask about uni­ver­sal health care, and he shakes his head. Four smart pres­i­dents — Tru­man, John­son, Nixon and Clin­ton — tried and failed. That one can wait. Re­form of So­cial Se­cu­rity and other en­ti­tle­ments? Too big, too wooly, too risky. If the pres­i­dent wants to pro­pose big changes to en­ti­tle­ments, he can lead the charge.

“The se­cret for the Democrats, says Emanuel, is to re­main the party of re­form and change. The coun­try is an­gry, and it will only get more so as the prob­lems in Iraq deepen. Don’t look to Emanuel’s Democrats for so­lu­tions on Iraq. It’s Bush’s war, and as it splin­ters the struc­ture of GOP power, the Democrats are wait­ing to pick up the pieces.”

Mr. Emanuel’s thoughts in the first para­graph ex­press­ing an in­tent for the two years of the 110th Congress to avoid deal­ing with the big­gest do­mes­tic prob­lems — health­care fi­nanc­ing and So­cial Se­cu­rity — while far short of heroic lead­er­ship, at least falls within the zone of con­ven­tional, prac­ti­cal, hack pol­i­tics. Talk about change and re­form but care­fully avoid do­ing any­thing about it.

Al­though, it is quite some­thing to read that Mr. Emanuel’s Demo­cratic Party plans to let the (first?) two years of their con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity pass by with­out even try­ing to ad­dress the health-care fi­nanc­ing mess — about which the Demo­cratic Party has for so long spo­ken so loudly and so earnestly. Re­gret­fully, too rou­tinely both par­ties fail even to as­pire to gen­uine lead­er­ship. So be it.

But it is that sec­ond para­graph that sits up and grabs one’s at­ten­tion. With Amer­ica at war and our troops dy­ing reg­u­larly in bat­tle with greater na­tional dan­ger and death in prospect: “Don’t look to Emanuel’s Democrats for so­lu­tions on Iraq. It’s Bush’s war, and as it splin­ters the struc­ture of GOP power, the Democrats are wait­ing to pick up the pieces.” [!]

This is vul­ture pol­i­tics. It is so far from re­spectable that it brings to mind the ad­mired lib­eral, twice Demo­cratic can­di­date for pres­i­dent against Eisen­hower, Gov. Ad­lai Steven­son’s, def­i­ni­tion of pa­tri­o­tism:

“What do we mean by pa­tri­o­tism in the con­text of our times? I ven­ture to sug­gest that what we mean is a sense of na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity [. . .] a pa­tri­o­tism which is not short, fren­zied out­bursts of emo­tion, but the tran­quil and steady ded­i­ca­tion of a life­time.”

But Rahm Emanuel’s Demo­cratic Party is so bereft of a sense of na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity, that he ap­par­ently feels com­fort­able brazenly telling The Post that his plans for his Demo- cratic Party is to not even try to stop things from get­ting worse in Iraq — so they can pick up the po­lit­i­cal pieces af­ter­ward. Mr. Emanuel is a “smart” politi­cian. He thinks the more dire Amer­ica’s place in the world is in 2008, the more likely the vot­ers are to vote Demo­cratic. The more of our troops are left in more pieces the bet­ter for Rahm Emanuel’s Democrats.

Maybe he is right — elec­torally. In pre-revo­lu­tion­ary Rus­sia, Vladimir Lenin wrote a fa­mous pam­phlet in which he re­ferred fa­vor­ably to Niko­lai Ch­erni­shevsky’s ap­pallingly cyn­i­cal phrase: “The worse, the bet­ter” — the po­lit­i­cal view that the worse the so­cial con­di­tions for the poor, the more will­ing they would be to sup­port a revo­lu­tion.”

Let me be care­ful — I am not ac­cus­ing Mr. Emanuel of be­ing a Lenin­ist (that would at least re­quire con­vic­tions — al­beit per­verted con­vic­tions). Mr. Emanuel has merely bought into the cyn­i­cal view that party in­ter­ests are more im­por­tant than na­tional in­ter­ests.

But per­haps he has forgotten that the art of be­ing a suc­cess­ful party cynic en­tails not pub­licly an­nounc­ing his cyn­i­cism. It might up­set “his” vot­ers if they knew how coldly he cal­cu­lates the value of Amer­i­can sol­diers’ lives and Amer­i­can na­tional in­ter­est.

Mr. Emanuel, when he used to work for Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, was pleased to tell peo­ple — in­clud­ing me — that he en­joyed lit­er­ally swim­ming with sharks — where on one oc­ca­sion he lost part of one of his fin­gers. Be­ing a sharp po­lit­i­cal oper­a­tive, he seemed to like the metaphor.

Now he has risen to high elec­tive of­fice, and though he has so far failed to man­i­fest any sense of na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity dur­ing wartime, he seems likely to live up to Ad­lai Steven­son’s def­i­ni­tion of false pa­tri­o­tism as the 2008 elec­tion ap­proaches and give off pa­tri­otic sound­ing “short, fren­zied out­bursts of emo­tion.”

Tony Blank­ley is edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor of The Times. He can be reached via e-mail at tblank­ley@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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