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The Secret Messages of Rahm Emmanuel

by MARK DONHAM

OK, so I wake up early on Sunday morning, like 6:30 am, so that I can watch the Chris Matthews show on WPSD, the NBC affiliate TV station out of Paducah, Kentucky. Hey, when you’re on network you have to get what you can when you can. Chris is followed by the Today Show, then Meet the Press. So we’re junkies of the Sunday network news shows. It’s all we got here off the antenna in the tip of southern Illinois.

Mr. Matthews has a short segment on his show called “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.” In this segment, his 4 panelists all give a snippet of some inside tidbit that they have learned from hanging out in Washington DC that the average public might go “wwwwoooowwwww, I didn’t know that.” I have to profess a liking of the segment. Not that much of anything out of that segment ever turns out to be really hot, but ya never know. That’s what I like about it.

Last Sunday, January 16, 2005, there were a couple new folks on his panel, Kathleen Parker, from the Orlando Sentinel, and Ryan Lizza from the New Republic. Maybe they have been on before, but I don’t remember seeing them. That doesn’t matter. And frankly I can’t remember which one said it – I was a little late turning on the TV and I turned on the program just as this segment started. I heard one of these two, and I believe it was Parker, but I can’t be sure because Matthews hasn’t published the transcript yet, say that their little inside secret was that the U.S. Democratic Representative Rahm Emmauel, who worked in the Clinton whitehouse and is now a U.S. Representative for a section of the north side of Chicago, was going to lock the Dems in on a Social Security message that would shake the Republicans, and his White House experience was the experience that he would use to lock onto the message and send the Republicans reeling. Well, that was what whichever one said it said.

(I want to like Democrats. I am trying, believe me. I want to help Democrats. But, as our great President W says, “it’s hard work!”)

I also have an interest in Mr. Emmanuel. Well not so much him, but his seat. I remember him working for Clinton. Then, when now Governor Rod Blageovich quit his congressional seat in the north side of Chicago a couple years ago to successfully run for Governor, Emmanuel appeared as a high name- recognition figure from the Clinton administration to try and stave off a pretty strong Republican challenge for the seat, which he did. That interested me, because the parents of my long-time partner Kristi live in Mr. Emmauel’s district, and have for a long time, and still do. Kristi grew up there. We go there often, and often walk or ride bicycles around the neighborhood. Mr. Blagoevich lives nearby. It’s a really interesting part of Chicago. I have some connection to the neighborhood and the area and I’ve spent some time there. So, I legitimately think I have a right to be interested in and comment on what Mr. Emmanuel says or things that relate to him.

So, naturally, I was very interested when a panelist on the Chris Matthews show, during one of my favorite segments, said that Mr. Emmanuel was taking over as chair of the Congressional Democrats election campaigns, and that this was going to spell problems for the Republicans. This was, according to the pundit, because Emmanuel was a real message man on Social Security, and that his success in the Clinton White House spelled trouble for the Republican’s plans to “fix” Social Security. I certainly knew he used to be in the Clinton Whitehouse, but I never really considered him to be one of the frontline, up and coming, fast rising stars of the Democrats. But then what really got my interest was an hour later, when Tim Russert had a little teaser on the Today Show and said one of his guests was going to be Rahm Emmanuel, congressman from Chicago. HMM, I thought. Coindidence? Hardly. These kind of things are rarely random in national politics. No, this was orchestrated.

So here comes Emmanuel on Russert. I’m all ears waiting for him to knock ’em dead. This might make me feel like the Dems might have a message after all. And not only that, but from a guy who is from a district in which I have some pretty strong connection. Kristi and I are listening carefully. Russert starts out questioning him. But it isn’t Social Security that gets the first line of questioning. It is the war in Iraq. While we are waiting for Emmanuel to really lay into Bush, to be the messenger that we had hoped for, we were more than disappointed.

While the transcript for the Matthews Show isn’t available yet, the Meet the Press transcript is. So let’s just refer to it. Now, I wrote an essay a few months ago, before the election, entitled something like “Start Explaining and Fast, John Kerry.” This essay focused on Kerry’s lack of courage when he was confronted during the campaign with Bush’s taunting that Kerry wouldn’t say whether or not he would have voted for or against the war knowing “then what he knew now.” We all know what happened. Kerry blew it. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, he bumbled out some cockamamie answer that he would still have voted to authorize the president, but he wouldn’t have done it the same way Bush did, expecting us to figure out what he was trying to say. Blah Blah Blah. To all who heard it, it was “yes.” There went the anti-war vote. And according to an article in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks ago, it was the war that decided the election. This one statement at the Grand Canyon is what lost Kerry the presidency in my opinion. But hey, what do I know. But my ears did turn toward the TV when Russert started questioning Emmanuel. But it wasn’t about Social Security first. No, that would come later. Russert asked him oh about the war in Iraq. After that line of questioning was over, I was in shock. If this is the Dems example of a “message man” they got big problems way beyond what I can imagine. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the transcript. Russert basically reiterated the question that doomed Kerry. One could have reasonable thought that the Dems would have learned from Kerry’s mistakes. But No! Check this out! (I have edited it somewhat so that the really meat of this particular interview shows).

MR. RUSSERT: Now, knowing that are no weapons of mass destruction, would you still have cast that vote?

REP. EMANUEL: Yes.. . I still believe that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, OK?

MR. RUSSERT: So even knowing there are no weapons of mass destruction, you would still vote to go into Iraq?

REP. EMANUEL: You can make–you could have made a case that Saddam Hussein was a threat….

MR. RUSSERT: What should the president do? What would you do differently?

REP. EMANUEL: …what I would do is I would not have happy talk…. We still don’t have a point on the horizon of what our exit strategy is. Second is if France and Germany won’t go to Iraq and participate in the training of the forces,.., maybe ask Jordan to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: Should we have a specific plan for troop withdrawal?

REP. EMANUEL: I would hope they would have some point on the horizon to think about it.

Oh boy….what a strong message! Now let’s go back over this. On Iraq, the issue that most pollsters now agree settled the presidential election, we have the Dem in charge of their House r elections saying that the war was justified even though the president lied about the reason. And, his alternative solution to the problem is to have Jordan train Iraqi troops instead of Germany and France. Oh yeah, and as far as an “exit strategy” goes, he “would hope they would have some point on the horizon to think about it.” Oh yeah, let’s not forget stopping the “happy talk.”

And this is supposed to be an alternative? Geez. And the Dems wonder why we, the progressives are a bit frustrated and turned off? This kind of waffling is exactly what split the Democratic party and suppressed the needed turnout to beat back the right wing. You would have thought Emmanuel would have learned something. Apparently not, and that is a problem.

This war was wrong before it started! It was based on a lie and people are dying needlessly. To me it was wrong even before we knew that there weren’t any WMD. These guys who claim they represent me and my way of thinking are still saying that not only was it OK from the beginning, but that if they could go back, knowing everything they know now, and redo their vote, they will still vote the same? Is he serious? And this is their message guy?

I’d like to know who they think that appeals to, cause I sure can’t figure it out. It doesn’t appeal to any Republican or Republican leaning voter – they aren’t going to vote for a Democrat who is sort of for the war but sort of against it. They’re going to vote for the Republican who is for it. And you’re going to alienate the left wing of the Democratic party, because they are against the war, and have been from the beginning. The only thing left is the center of the Democrats, with the left and right wings of the party stripped away. The center of the Democratic party is really weak on a national level, but still have a lot of clout in the organizational level, and their strategic prowess had become about as saavy as a raccoon raiding the bird feeder. All they do is make you mad.

MARK DONHAM lives in Brookport, Illlinois. He can be reached at: markkris@earthlink.net.

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