Meet Rahm Emmanuel, the Democrats’ New Gatekeeper



At a recent meeting of House Republicans, members ruminating on the disastrous state of their party reportedly murmured with gloomy jocularity about the administration of “President Hastert”. A CounterPuncher familiar with the proceedings reports “they were only half joking”.

Yet, as they contemplate political ruin in next year’s election, these Republicans can take solace in the fact that, if defeated, their replacements may not differ in any meaningful way on important issues of the day. That at least is the hope and dream of Democratic apparatchik Rahm Emmanuel and the corporate toadies he represents. Ominously, Emmanuel, a relict of the Clinton White House, heads the Democratic National Campaign Committee.

As such, he decides which candidates for the House should get money and other support from the national party. At a time when any fool can see that the public hates the war more this month than last, and will hate it even more next month and the month after that, Emmanuel is doing his best to recruit candidates, preferably rich ones, guaranteed to eschew vocal opposition to the war.

Clear evidence for this proclivity is evident in the race to succeed Henry Hyde, in Chicago’s 6th District.

In the last election progressive candidate Christine Cegalis actually got 44.2 per cent of the vote against the sixteen-term Hyde, despite being outspent $700,000 to $160,000 in a conservative district with no elected Democrats at all.

Following this commendable showing, Cegalis figured that with Hyde retiring and the Republicans melting down, she stood a better than even chance of garnering the seat in 2006.

However it seems that in Emmanuel’s opinion, Cegalis stinks. Never mind that excellent record against the giant Hyde, forget her well-crafted support network in the Chicago district, Cegalis has not yet raised a million dollars and, even more damningly, she is calling for troop withdrawal from Iraq. So Emmanuel set out to recruit a more suitable candidate. Initially, he approached two millionaires and urged them, serially, to run against Cegalis in the primary.

They refused. Now he is pinning his hopes on a double amputee women Iraq veteran, Tammy Duckworth

Duckworth, who is not from the district, has ignited hopes at DCCC headquarters that she would campaign on a “pro-business/centrist platform”. Queried by a Chicago Sun Times columnist for her opinion on the war, she replied, “There’s good and bad in everything”.

That sort of equivocation must certainly have commended her to Emmanuel, who greeted Congressman Murtha’s fervent and well-informed denunciation of the war with the words “Jack Murtha went out and spoke for Jack Murtha” and has declared that “At the right time we will have a position” on the war.

Cegalis’ position is clear: “I support Jack Murtha”, she tells CounterPunch. “If Jack Murtha is calling for withdrawal, then I go with that.”

If Emmanuel and his like succeed in displacing Cegalis and similar candidates, thereby undercutting any claim the Democrats might have to either principle or votes, he will only be concluding the work he began in the 1990s.

Cegalis reports that the economy has become the key issue in DuPage County, roughly coterminous with the district. “DuPage has lost jobs for the first time in fifty years.” As manufacturing jobs disappear to Mexico or China, voters can mull the benefits of free trade and the Democrats who fostered it.

Most clear-minded observers would agree that among the mortal body blows that have brought the Democrats to their present ebb, the passage of NAFTA in 1993, with consequent evisceration of the American industrial economy, must count as among the most lethal.

Key to that passage was Emmanuel, who directed the Clinton White House operation to get the treaty passed by any means necessary.

The inevitable consequences of misery and want inflicted on Americans and Mexicans alike did not of course hinder his career, which took him, following his departure from the White House in 1998, to a well upholstered post in a Chicago banking firm before he won election to Dan Rostenkowski’s old Chicago seat.

Now, with the Democrats presented by their opponents with their best chance in years, Emmanuel is ready to ensure that, come what may, nothing will really change, except for the worse.

ANDREW COCKBURN is the co-author, with Patrick Cockburn, of Out of the Ashes: the Resurrection of Saddam Hussein.



Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.  An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years.  In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino. His latest book is  The Spoils of War: Power, Profit and the American War Machine. (Verso.)