The Gatekeeper

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

In his essay Friday A Progressive/Liberal Agenda Buhdy initiated some discussion here of what changes would be considered and desired to be included by progressives as an agenda to be lobbied for to Barack Obama as he takes up his new job as President, and people here offered a range of ideas, many based on rolling back things that George Bush had instituted during his eight years in office.

As distasteful as it may be to many quite possibly the most important thing to be considered in developing such an agenda is not what people might want, but what is going to be politically possible to achieve with an Obama presidency. The dark spirit of political pragmatism rears its ugly head here, since there is little point, though I’d be the last to say no point, in asking for things that are not politically likely.

Which raises the questions, what or who will determine politically what is possible to achieve? What are the roadblocks? Who will be standing in the road fending off or screening all comers to Obama with  requests?

Who do you have to please? Who do you have to get past? Who will decide whether Obama even hears your pleas? Who will set the tone, at least initially, for Obamas presidency?

The White House Chief of Staff is the second highest-ranking member of the Executive Office of the President of the United States and a senior aide to the President. Some individuals who have held the position, including Sherman Adams, have been dubbed “The Second-Most Powerful Man in Washington” due to the nature of the job.

The duties of the White House Chief of Staff vary greatly from one administration to another. However, the chief of staff has been responsible for overseeing the actions of the White House staff, managing the president’s schedule, and deciding who is allowed to meet with the president. Because of these duties, the Chief of Staff has at various times been dubbed “The Gatekeeper” and “The Co-President”. (wikipedia)

More from The Real News and The Wall Street Journal on the flip…

In a WSJ article this morning a story about Obama’s incoming White House Chief of Staff makes it clear what to expect initially from Obama, and by omission what not to expect as he makes it clear that he will do his utmost too keep Obama reined in as a center right Democrat.

Basically a play it safe non progressive administration. And perhaps much worse that that.

In Rahm Emanuel’s telling, the Democratic victories on Tuesday were a continuum of what began in the 2006 midterm elections, when his party won majorities in the House and the Senate for the first time in 12 years.

Recently, I spoke with Mr. Emanuel during a short layover at the Detroit airport. Officially, he hadn’t yet been offered the new post, and when queried about the prospect of serving in the Obama White House he demurred. But Mr. Emanuel, who turns 49 later this month, was eager to discuss Congress’s agenda going forward. He explained how Democrats can avoid the mistakes that felled the Republican majority, and he reflected on the lessons learned as a high-ranking member of President Clinton’s brain trust in the 1990s.

Asked what Barack Obama was elected to do, and what legislation he’s likely to find on his Oval Office desk soonest, Mr. Emanuel didn’t hesitate. “Bucket one would have children’s health care, Schip,” he said. “It has bipartisan agreement in the House and Senate. It’s something President-elect Obama expects to see. Second would be [ending current restrictions on federally funded] stem-cell research. And third would be an economic recovery package focused on the two principles of job creation and tax relief for middle-class families.”

The last time a Democratic president’s party also ran Congress was 1992. Just two years later, however, voters changed their mind about that arrangement and gave the GOP control of the House and Senate. Mr. Emanuel said he’s not at all concerned that the party will overplay its hand this time. He insisted that his caucus is mindful of what happened to Democrats in 1994 and the Republican Congress in 2006.

“the lesson is to do what you got elected to do,” said Mr. Emanuel. “Do what you talked about on the campaign. If you got elected, that’s what people expect. Don’t go off on tangents where part of your party is demanding an ideological litmus test. Neither of those things was part of the campaign.”

So I asked Mr. Emanuel if the election of an unabashed liberal like Mr. Obama has made the New Democrat strategy obsolete. Perhaps what we witnessed on Tuesday means that liberalism is ascendant and the U.S. is no longer a center-right nation. “I think the country is incredibly pragmatic,” he responded. “Pragmatic and progressive. But you still have to mix and match different approaches to reach your objectives. You have to be flexible.”

He said the similarities between Barack Obama and the last Democratic president matter more than the differences. “Both Barack and Bill Clinton have an incredible connection to the public,” he said. “Both ran on a message of hope. Both ran against failed policies that let the country down prior to them being elected. I don’t think the country is yearning for an ideological answer. If anything it’s the opposite. They want real solutions to real problems. And if we do an ideological test, we will fail. Our challenge is to work to solve the actual problems that the country is facing, not work to satisfy any constituency or ideological wing of the party.”

So who is this guy? Who is Rahm Emanual? What does he want and stand for? What is his vision of an Obama presidency? What has he done in the past that will give some clues as to how he will operate as “Co-President”?

David Swanson is the creator of, the Washington Director of and co-founder of the coalition; a board member of Progressive Democrats of America; of the Backbone Campaign; and of Voters for Peace. He serves on a working group of United for Peace and Justice. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign.

A couple of days ago he spoke with Real News CEO Paul Jay about the ramifications of Emanual in the Chief of Staff position.

You may not much like what he had to say.


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    • Edger on November 8, 2008 at 6:31 pm
  1. about Emanuel is the top-down way he ran the DCCC and how he fought Dean so hard on the 50 state strategy. I just heard someone on NPR this morning talking about how Emanuel was responsible for recruiting and vetting all of the Democrats that ran in House races in 2006. Isn’t that supposed to be what primaries are for?

    But I’m still trying to read between the lines of what people mean by words like ideological and pragmatic. I certainly have no loyalty to policies just because they are coming from the Democrats. It is perhaps some sort of “dog whistle” kind of thing that others are hearing loud and clear as particulars. But not so much for me…yet.

  2. should also apply to the CFR “advisors” who will have far more influence(tell Obama what he is going to do to advance the Satanic global agenda)

    • Edger on November 9, 2008 at 6:06 pm
  3. … the only “progressive” actions to hold hope for coming out of the White House are what could be called “centrist progressive” … that is, making progress on a issues that a substantial majority of Americans want to see progress on, framed in terms that a substantial majority of Americans already accept.

    IOW, precisely the same “progressive” actions that could have been expected before the appointment of Rahm Emmanual.

    Indeed, precisely the kind of “progressive” actions one might hope to see come out of a moderate Republican administration (were such a thing a possibility).

    Any idea of President-elect Obama as a moderate progressive, still less a radical progressive, are held by people who either did not watch the primary process or who were watching the head-fakes rather than watching the ball.

    Any progress beyond the very narrow confines of that kind of “centrist progressivism” will be won by organizing and getting things moving through the House.

    And, yes, that means in 2010 being sure that Democratic targets for primarying are identified, progressive challengers recruited, and progressive challengers funded.

  4. but he seems to see things awfully black & white,and that actually knocks down his credibility with me. I knew Obama was more centrist than me after I read his books, but I also know he is caring and intelligent. I think in the long run this will work better for us.

    • dkmich on November 9, 2008 at 7:46 pm

     I really think the diary about organizer in chief is right on target.  Now is the time to follow through and hold them accountable.  We need to demand bold change because that is the only way we will get it.  At least with Obama, we have somebody who can hear.  

  5. …the Emmanuel appointment yet.  I like it from the standpoint of implementing policies because he does get people in line.  But I’m skeptical too about how he’ll use his ability to shape policy by controlling access to Obama.

    I like that Republicans are freaked out about it.  That should probably count for something.  Although a snippy comment from someone like John Boehner probably says more about Boehner than Emmanuel.

    During the campaign Obama surrounded himself with people that know how to win.  I expect he’ll do the same as President.  We just can’t be sure what he wants to win until he actually gets started.  

    I remain optimistic though.      

  6. Personally, I feel we need to cool our jets — not be too precipitous or over-anticipating.  We need to let things unfold a little, I think, before we start jumping to all kinds of conclusions.  

    As to Rahm, well, I think Obama has spelled out so many of his goals and Rahm’s efforts certainly wouldn’t be to impede those goals, I don’t think.  Rahm’s role now will be quite different in nature, as I see it.

    All remains to be seen.  

    I’m sure we’re all ready to shout, when necessary!

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