Monday, 21 June 2010

An unprincipled stand

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, is expected to leave his job later this year after growing tired of the "idealism" of Barack Obama's inner circle.
Is this the first instance of a politician resigning because their lack of principles demanded it? Imagine the exit interview: "I'm sorry Mr President, I just didn't come into politics to make the world a better place." OK, you might expect some suspicion of ideals from a hoary, old, cynical conservative but isn't Rahm nominally of the left, a place where idealism is supposed to come with the territory?

8 comments:

Barendina Smedley said...

This is from the New York Times:

The best Rahm Emanuel story is not the one about the decomposing two-and-a-half-foot fish he sent to a pollster who displeased him. It is not about the time - the many times - that he hung up on political contributors in a Chicago mayor's race, saying he was embarrassed to accept their $5,000 checks because they were $25,000 kind of guys. No, the definitive Rahm Emanuel story takes place in Little Rock, Ark., in the heady days after Bill Clinton was first elected President.

It was there that Emanuel, then Clinton's chief fund-raiser, repaired with George Stephanopoulos, Mandy Grunwald and other aides to Doe's, the campaign hangout. Revenge was heavy in the air as the group discussed the enemies - Democrats, Republicans, members of the press - who wronged them during the 1992 campaign. Clifford Jackson, the ex-friend of the President and peddler of the Clinton draft-dodging stories, was high on the list. So was William Donald Schaefer, then the Governor of Maryland and a Democrat who endorsed George Bush. Nathan Landow, the fund-raiser who backed the candidacy of Paul Tsongas, made it, too.

Suddenly Emanuel grabbed his steak knife and, as those who were there remember it, shouted out the name of another enemy, lifted the knife, then brought it down with full force into the table.

"Dead!" he screamed.

The group immediately joined in the cathartic release: "Nat Landow! Dead! Cliff Jackson! Dead! Bill Schaefer! Dead!"


Clearly all of this is deplorable, if not downright psychotic - but on the other hand, one can see why unpredictable initiative of this sort is might bad fit with the somewhat dreary worthiness of Obamalot.

So while Emanuel is obviously pretty ghastly, at least if one has to deal with him up close, at a distance there's something strangely appealing about him, too. It's almost as if the USA had to have their own regional variant of Alastair Campbell, target that he is of feuds and schoolgirl crushes but absolutely nothing, as far as I can see, in between.

Gaw said...

Lovely, heart-warming anecdote. Must have been very satisfying - I mean, who hasn't wanted to stab a steak knife into a table and shout "die!" repeatedly?

I'd say the big difference between Rahm and Ali is that the latter really is an evil genius. I think the former's credibility was blown when healthcare passed. He was sceptical and argued strongly for dropping the legislation and adopting a piecemeal approach. It's as if Ali had decided the Iraq War was a bad idea but it went ahead anyway (er, and that's an example of non-genius behaviour? says bruised supporter of the war). But then I suppose we all knew that "idealism" can indeed prove more effective than a pragmatic approach, albeit sometimes more dangerous...

Barendina Smedley said...

One of my favourite films (okay, one of the small handful of films that I can stand) is - you may be surprised to learn - 'The Eagle Has Landed'. What I like about it is that absolutely everyone in it, the SS officer at the beginning and of course Himmler excepted, is in some sense behaving honorably - it's just that all of them have different codes of honour. (Whereas, the SS is just bad news, full stop - rightly so.) So in a way, it's like a post-Christian version of Greek tragedy. And it's got Michael Caine. How good is that?

The point, anyway, is that while I entirely agree with you about evil genius Ali - indeed, one of Fugitive Ink's less well kept secrets is the endless draft post (30,000 words last time I checked) in which the author meditates on good, evil and the career of Mr A. Campbell - he does seem to me, anyway, to have a clear code of honour. As codes go, it's quite weird, more than slightly masochistic, and works as a licence excusing everything else. It's based on a hierarchy of loyalty, and for a long time Blair was at the top of that hierarchy. Obviously, this high-end variant on 'just following orders' is not exactly an impediment to evil. But then Campbell seems to me intelligent, blessed with self-knowledge, and also entirely morally sentient. In that sense, his diaries remind me of those that Puritans used to keep in the 17th century, examining their own lives for the signs of God's wonder-working providence, but also of their own election (or otherwise). Campbell's also an atheist who's obsessed with religion. And he's very good at what he does. I could write about this stuff all day ...

Back to the main point, though. Someone more anti-American than I am might make a point about the superficiality of American political culture, wherein it is possible for the variant-Campbell to carry on his parallel 'evil genius' career through media appearances alone, without actually achieving anything, whereas our version had to actually start wars, see that elected politicians are appointed or sacked, make the political weather. But for all sorts of reasons that would be marginally unfair, so I won't.

And when it comes to the Iraq War, unfortunately I am naturally anti anti-war types - which, err, probably tends to make me more pro-war than I ought to be. Tricky stuff, morality.

Gaw said...

Ha! And will we have to wait much longer for your critical appreciation? My breath abates...

By the way, I'd like to know more about the influence of Campbell's Scottishness. I think it may explain the odd wee feature (or is that bug?).

Barendina Smedley said...

Scots who grow up in England, study at an English university, support an English football team to the point of mania, ostentatiously play the pipes but absolutely utterly detest (as did Blair) pretty much everything about present-day actual Scotland, from the quality of its Labour party to its light and weather, are admittedly an under-researched topic. And of course Campbell waited until he was in Glasgow before going bonkers, didn't he? Hmm, back to work ...

Recusant said...

Barendina, you are truly a work of wonder. Hurry up with that Campbell opus, already.

Whilst you're about it, could you add a little addendum as to why Andy Coulson is not, and never could be, Ali Campbell?

Barendina Smedley said...

Recusant, we are clearly thinking along similar lines as my draft post already deals head on with that particular comparison - although you perhaps also suggest why I'll never quite get to the end of this project, as new evidence continues to appear with each passing day - not least, evidence validating our shared 'Andy Coulson is not Ali Campbell' thesis. And there's a lot of that evidence about ...

In other news, GAW, I made a pilgrimage to St Paul's today to see the Mark Alexander silkscreens, and was glad I did - they work even better in context than I'd imagined. Anyway, more on that soon, perhaps - but thanks for mentioning this project - highly recommended!

Gaw said...

If possible my breath is even more bated. Can't wait to read (?) your thoughts.