Obama’s Dud Svengali

Obama is losing his strong right arm. Dark days lie ahead, in which the president will lose traction with Congress, needlessly offend key constituencies, lose control of his legislative agenda. Why? His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is quitting the White House,  prelude to a bid to become mayor of Chicago.

But wait! Aren’t those dark days already here? Isn’t the president’s approval rating sinking steadily? Doesn’t he face the possible loss of both houses of Congress to the Republicans? Aren’t Democrats facing uphill fights in the midterm elections begging him to stay away and not doom them with his shadow?

All these things are true. If Rahm Emanuel has been his strong right arm and, in the fawning words of a writer for the Daily Beast,  “the man with the political grit and muscle to make the president’s dreams come true”, then perhaps the President will fare better across the next two years fighting with his left hand only, and with a chief advisor at his side endowed with less muscle and bad language but more brains and strategic savvy.

Emanuel got flattering press because he fit the cliché profile of a can-do political  rough-houser, someone who would instruct head-in-the-clouds Obama in the  coarse political  realities of Washington DC.

By the time Obama hired him, Emanuel already had a proven record of  toadyism to corporate America and the neocon lobby, Emanuel  was  a relict of all that was sleazy  in the Clinton White House. Among the body blows that have brought the Democrats to their present ebb, the passage of NAFTA in 1993, with consequent destruction 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.

Following his departure from the White House in 1998, Emanuel headed to a well upholstered post in a Chicago banking firm before he won election to Dan Rostenkowski’s old Chicago seat. By 2005 he headed the Democratic National Campaign Committee. As such, he decided which candidates for the House should get money and other support from the national party. As Andrew Cockburn and later John Walsh described on this site at that time, Emanuel did his best to recruit candidates, preferably rich ones, guaranteed to eschew vocal opposition to the Iraq war, which Emanuel, a veteran of the Israeli army strongly favored.

After the midterm election John Walsh totted up the scorecard achieved by the man hailed as the Democrats’ can-do guy, as efficiently ruthless as the Great Satan himself, Karl Rove.

Emanuel  had chosen chose 22 key races, open or Republican seats, where Democrats might win. “By any reasonable criteria,” Walsh wrote, “ all the candidates chosen by Emanuel, save perhaps for one, were pro-war as Emanuel himself. In two cases Rahm had to put in considerable dollars and effort in the primaries to drive out antiwar candidates. He drove out Cegelis in Illinois’s 6th CD, at the cost of one million dollars, in favor of Tammy (“Stay the course”) Duckworth who lost in the general election. In California’s 11th CD primary, Emanuel backed the prowar Steven Filson who lost to the antiwar candidate, Jerry McNerney, who went on to win in the general election.”

Looking at all 22 candidates hand-picked by Rahm, Walsh  found that 13 were defeated, and only 8 won! And remember that this was the year of the Democratic tsunami and that Emanuel’s favorites were handsomely financed by the DCCC.

Emanuel’s political profile was scarcely a secret , and so the fact that Obama picked him as his chief of staff was  a painful kick in the stomach for all those foolish souls who thought Obama’s victory presaged exciting changes in America’s course.

In the event Emanuel’s time at Obama’s elbow was a disaster from the start. It was the supposedly savvy Emanuel who allowed Obama to blow his first year on a health reform bill that pleased no one. (Emanuel later made haste to stab his boss in the back by confiding to journalists that he had urged Obama to postpone  health reform past the first year.)  He helped construct  a poorly designed stimulus bill  and surrendered to Republicans in Congress who demanded the tax cuts which further disfigured it. From Emanuel come no strong words to Obama to urge him to act resolutely to save millions of Americans from losing their homes, and to bring the arrogant bankers on Wall Street to their knees.

In the end, the buck has to stop with Obama. But Emanuel was a lead weight tied to the ankle of a president already wallowing in the timid sell-outs that finally caused him to face the polite and therefore all the more devastating reproof of a middle-aged, middle-class  black woman, Velma Hart, in a town-meting in a Washington DC suburb a couple of weeks ago. Hart said, ” I’m exhausted from defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”

Emanuel’s  political calls in the elections were terrible, from the Massachusetts race for Ted Kennedy’s seat, which elevated the Tea Party from curiosity to powerbroker,  to the handling of the Illinois and  Pennsylvania senate races.The portrait of Emanuel in Woodward’s new book  is anything but flattering, particularly in the treatment of national security advisor Jones. After Emanuel’s announcement that he was quitting the listing ship, one could conjecture that perhaps Cliton’s bail-out man, David Gergen, might get the call yet again, or  maybe  they’d haul Panetta in from CIA as replacement. But the job has gone to Rahm’s number two, a relative unknown and it looks as though there’s going to be a power vacuum with a lot of scrambling, perhaps for the exits, after the election.

What is it about these paste-board Svengalis, that prompts the press to close its eyes to their manifest incompetence?

Obama had Emanuel guiding him into one disaster after another. His predecessor in the White House,, George W. Bush, fared just as badly, if not worse at the hands of his political counselor, Karl Rove, to this day touted in the press and particularly on the left as a pastmaster in the dark arts of dirty politics.

The prime task of a political counselor is to keep his patron’s polling numbers high, and enhance his political clout. Rove left his employer with ratings in the low thirties, with almost zero political capital in the bank.

As he confided them to his associates Rove’s three aims for Bush’s second term were to privatize Social Security ­ America’s public pension system — push through an Immigration Act and firm up a permanent Republican majority. In the event, social security “reform” was the White House’s prime domestic political disaster in 2005. Rove’s handling of the immigration bill was so inept that Republican congressional leaders refused to talk to him and told Bush’s chief of staff to send someone else. Despite Emanuel’s diligent efforts to seize failure from the jaws of victory, Rove’s incompetence proved superior to Rahm’s and the “permanent Republican majority” turned to ashes in the polling booths in the midterm elections in 2006.

Rove’s last turn as arch demon of choice was as the alleged instigator of the firing of several federal prosecutors. Federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president, so their arrivals and departures are always part of everyday political logrolling, as practiced by every presidency in historical memory. As with many of Rove’s political duties, this was handled with matchless incompetence and so the Democrats had a field day.

The best chief of staff in living memory was James Baker, a smoothly tough Texan lawyer, who served as top aide to both Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, ran both the Treasury and the State Department and finally shoe-horned George Bush Jr into the White House  amid the “spoiled vote” crisis in Florida in the 2000 election. No one called Baker a Svengali. He was far too canny a player to have that tag hung round his neck.

In recent weeks Obama has been saying goodbye to two senior aides, Emanuel and Lawrence Summers, his chief White House economic advisor, another disaster. On would have thought that from those two fateful misappointments Obama has nowhere to go but up, but as his undignified and self-aggrandizing  whines on the campaign trail suggest, Obama can see that his presidency is in a fix beyond rescue by the elevated streams of verbiage that won him the White House back in 2008.  Emanuel blames his boss, and his boss blames the progressives for letting him down! I blame the progressives for pumping Obama up in the first place.  Realism is the first, best tool in politics.

Which brings me briefly to Ed Miliband, now chosen to be the leader of the British Labor Party. The last time I saw Eddie he was an intern at the Nation in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Round the corner from the Nation when it was on Fifth and 13th st in Manhattan was Zinno’s restaurant and amid a pleasant lunch with JoAnWypijewski, my own intern Richie McKerrow and Eddie, I asked the future leader what I asked all interns as a matter of form, “Eddie, is your hate pure?”

The man who first asked me that question was the late Jim Goode, editor of Penthouse.  Like Playboy, Penthouse would pay good money for long articles about the corruption of America, thus giving the pointyheads an excuse to thumb through the pinups. Goode, tall and cadaverous,  was gay, clad in black leather as he crouched on the floor of his office, gazing morosely at hundreds of  photos of bare-breasted women. As I entered with some screed about corporate and political evil,  he snarl, “Alex, is your hate pure?” “Yes, Jim, my hate is pure.”

It was a good way of assaying interns. The feisty ones would respond excitedly, “Yes, my hate is pure.”  I put the question to Eddie Miliband. He gaped at me in shock like Gussie Fink-Nottle watching one of his newts vanish down the plug hole in his bath. “I…I… don’t hate anyone, Alex,” he stammered. It’s all you need to know. English capitalism will be safe in his hands, assuming he ever grasps the levers of what passes for power in 10 Downing Street. It is very hard to imagine him as prime minister. He’s forever Fink-Nottle to me.

And talking of all you need to know, here’s a fund-raising appeal recently sent out by Florida-based Nancy and Mark Gilbert, who  are big money raisers for the Democratic Party, also active in fundraising for Israel.

‘Dear Friends,

“Under the radar” is not what we’re used to in the Jewish community.

We demand it big and bold and we need it loud and clear.  (and- that is A. O. K.! )

But- when work is done quietly and not with SCREAMING headlines, we sometimes miss it.

Silly us!  WAKE UP EVERYONE…. It’s a new (Jewish) year ! And our President and his team (and YES, our CONGRESS) have done, are doing and WILL continue to do extraordinary work in connection with America’s best friend: the State of Israel.

 At the Israeli Ambassador’s residence on Monday, the annual Rosh Ha Shanah (Jewish New Year for our non-Jewish friends on this email) reception guest list included national and international Jewish organization leaders; elegantly dressed Foreign Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps, a host of Rabbis from across the religious spectrum ; famous authors, renown professors and magnificently decorated military personnel from several countries including at least one  U.S. 3-star General (Dayton).  We were invited because my husband Mark is the National Deputy Finance Chairman of the Democratic party, I’m the owner of an Israel tour company and have been heavily involved in tourism to Israel for 15 years and probably- and most importantly- because our daughter was Ambassador Oren’s student at Yale.

Thank You, President Obama!

Ambassador Oren and his wonderful wife Sally warmly received each guest -then stood before the assembled crowd in what was the best stump speech for President Obama that I have heard from any world leader (and yes, Ambassador Oren speaks FOR Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel!). Without a note, Ambassador Oren outlined the brilliant accomplishments and strong support of Israel demonstrated by the Obama Administration in LESS THAN 2 YEARS!  Oren invoked our President’s name, time and time again: (please memorize these bullet points and tell everyone you know!)

President Obama has led the global effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

President Obama’s leadership (and coaxing) has produced an international coalition that INCLUDES China and Russia who have implemented unprecedented sanctions against Iran, which, according to conversations at the Monday reception, appear to have caught Iran off-guard

President Obama and his team are spending more time on this issue than almost any other issue facing our country today

President Obama and our Congress have provided Israel with every cent (and then some) of foreign assistance requested by Israel

President Obama has restored Israel’s QME (qualitative military edge) which had been neglected for the last 8 years

President Obama is the FIRST American leader to say – in an Arab country (Egypt)  that the Arab world must recognize Israel as a JEWISH state and in a support of Israel’s legitimacy to affirm the –quote- “unshakeable “ bond between the USA & Israel

President Obama & team played a critical role in leading a UNANIMOUS vote to include Israel in the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation & Development). The vote was  31-0 admitting Israel to this prestigious organization

President Obama has dispatched leaders of the Joint Chiefs to Israel not once, but four times already in his less-than-2-years in office ( before that the Joint chiefs had not been in Israel for YEARS (not once during the ‘last’ administration)

The Obama administration has integrated US missile technology into Israel’s expanding missile shield. NO OTHER AMERICAN PRESIDENT HAS DONE THIS.

The Obama administration continues to fund development of ARROW-3,  Israel’s advanced long-rage, high-altitude system for countering Iranian ballistic missiles

President Obama asked Congress for $205 million dollars for Israel’s IRON DOME rocket defense system (which will reduce incoming rocket threats from Hizbullah in the north and Hamas in the south…) – this request is IN ADDITION TO the $3 BILLION budgetary request for Israel’s security assistance!

And my personal under-the-radar item; the Obama team’s clever input to re-wording the Gaza blockade language which not only garnered international support for Israel (and a promise not to condemn Israel if Gd forbid there is another flotilla incident) BUT effectively thwarted several pending flotillas in Mediterranean and Persian Gulf ports… that simply became the boats-to-nowhere!

And last, but surely not least, (and listed in this basic order by Ambass. Oren) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiators are sitting as we speak at a table together – talking.  Who knows what the result will be….but talking is the only way to get anywhere. And it is a giant step in a positive direction.

This email is too long already and I hope you have gotten this far, but you must realize that the list of bullet points above is extraordinary.


And all accomplished by the Obama team and the current congress- in less than two years in office.

Looking ahead to 5771, may you and your families be blessed with a beautiful year, filled with good health, good times and ….peace.

With warm regards from our house to yours,


Nancy & Mark Gilbert.’


The Absurdity of the “Peace Process”

Yes it can, or Si, se puede, as the “honest broker” Obama would say.  In our latest newsletter, Kathleen Christison details the new round of negotiations between Palestinians and Israel, sponsored by Obama & Co. As Christison writes:

“The deck in these negotiations is clearly stacked against the Palestinians and against any possibility of resolving or even addressing the root of the conflict and Palestinian grievances going back to 1948.

“Imagine a peace process and, if the peace processors get their wish, a peace settlement that ignores major aspects of Palestinian interests –

“that ignores an entire portion of Palestinian territory in Gaza, along with its 1.5 million imprisoned inhabitants;

“that ignores Hamas and the reality that it was democratically elected by a people dissatisfied with the leadership of those Palestinian leaders now sitting at the negotiating table;

“that ignores Israel’s continued inexorable absorption of land, a phenomenon of which settlement construction is only one manifestation;

“that ignores the reality that prevention of any Palestinian state is part of the founding principles and the political basis of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, which itself sits to the left of other right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s coalition;

“that ignores the immense significance of the strong U.S. partnership with Israel, particularly the Kafkaesque reality that the U.S.A. – the supposed mediator – gives one party to the negotiations the firepower with which to suppress the other.”

Read this savage, indispensable report inn our subscriber-only newsletter.

Also in this terrific issue, Bill Hatch on the new speculative real estate bubble swelling day by day in California. Without booms and busts capitalism wouldn’t be capitalism. Love it… or change it.

And in America capitalism wouldn’t be capitalism without methodical racism. Mike Snedeker on a new map of hell — the New Jim Crow.

I urge you to  subscribe now!

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.