Monday, February 22, 2010

How to get good press in Washington

Dana Milbank wrote a column yesterday about how much better Barack Obama would be doing if he'd just followed the advice of his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Milbank tells us how astute Emanuel's advice to the President had been all last year. every mistake that Obama made was when he didn't follow Emanuel's words or wisdom.
Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter.

Obama chose the profane former Clinton adviser for a reason. Where the president is airy and idealistic, Rahm is earthy and calculating. One thinks big; the other, a former House Democratic Caucus chair, understands the congressional mind, in which small stuff counts for more than broad strokes.

Obama's problem is that his other confidants -- particularly Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs, and, to a lesser extent, David Axelrod -- are part of the Cult of Obama. In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn't dirty his hands in politics.

The president would have been better off heeding Emanuel's counsel. For example, Emanuel bitterly opposed former White House counsel Greg Craig's effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, arguing that it wasn't politically feasible. Obama overruled Emanuel, the deadline wasn't met, and Republicans pounced on the president and the Democrats for trying to bring terrorists to U.S. prisons. Likewise, Emanuel fought fiercely against Attorney General Eric Holder's plan to send Khalid Sheik Mohammed to New York for a trial. Emanuel lost, and the result was another political fiasco.

Obama's greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction.

The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.

Had it gone Emanuel's way, a politically popular health-care bill would have passed long ago, leaving plenty of time for other attractive priorities, such as efforts to make college more affordable. We would have seen a continuation of the momentum of the first half of 2009, when Obama followed Emanuel's strategy and got 11 substantive bills on his desk before the August recess.
And how do we know what Emanuel was telling the President? Well, because Emanuel has undoubtedly whispered in Milbank's ears. A good adviser is invisible to the media, but Emanuel wants to be sure that his star doesn't get tarnished while serving Obama. So he lets Milbank know how he was on the opposite side of all the mistakes that Obama made in the past year, but unfortunately the Pelosi-Reid wing of the party won out. And now when Obama's poll numbers are sinking, support for his policies keeps decreasing, and the Democrats are facing a tidal wave election, Emanuel is making sure that his media puppet reports that it's "not his fault." Quite obliging of Milbank, isn't it? I wonder how all the rest of Obama's advisers enjoy reading such a column in the Washington Post.