Rahm, His Critics, and the American People

A storyline is solidifying around the topic of the administration's failure to lead. One great example is Steve Clemons' post yesterday on Edward Luce's big White House article.
Through Luce's piece, a swarm of angry critics of the Rahm
Administration, voice their (anonymous) concerns. It's Rahm vs. a range
of complaints about what he, and the inner circle he coordinates, are
doing wrong. But none of the critics, as they are presented in the
article, or the others like Clemons now piling on, have hit the nail on
the head.

Most of the criticisms fall roughly into two categories: Rahm &
Co. are alienating their most important allies, which is stupid
politics; and they are running the White House like a campaign, jumping
from crisis to crisis and losing the forest in the trees -- leading to
the final diagnosis: "The Obama White House is geared for campaigning
rather than governing."

The Rahm administration, however, has always lacked the most
important quality of the Obama campaign: It has never, not even for a
minute, had a big, clear, inspiring mission. If it had one, then
running the administration as though it were a campaign would be the
right thing to do; as would be alienating some allies who oppose the
mission. Instead, the administrations' muddled agenda centers on
industry-approved health care reform (which has again been turned out
to be an impossible DLC dream), Wall Street bailouts and scattershot
stimulus that few Americans are feeling.

But the criticisms in the Luce article and elsewhere expose the true
problem: Policy and political strategy in American politics have been
completely divorced from one another. The political strategists who ran
Obama's campaign allowed him -- or maybe it was just that kid Jon
Favreau? -- to run on a big, clear, inspiring mission: "A nation
healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again." Note: I
didn't say detailed, just big and inspiring! But after the victory,
like Garibaldi they took their applause and walked into the sunset (or
OFA). In fact, they had to: because, according to the caste system of
American politics they knew about the romance of campaigning, but not
the realpolitik of governing.

The American people, like people everywhere, are hopeful. They gave
Obama a chance to make good on such big words as "hope" and "change" in
office. But then the policy wonks took over. Big, clear policies worth
fighting for were unthinkable for these particular people, because they
see industry and Wall Street as more important than the American
people. To be fair, most of them are just trying to be realistic, not
malicious: they would prefer to stand up for the American people, but
industry and Wall Street are simply more powerful and must be appeased.

Therefore, neither "Medicare for Everyone," nor a direct bailout for
tens of millions of Americans who were victimized by Wall Street were
ever a possibility. But in ruling out those kinds of pro-people
policies, the administration deactivated the American people. The
massive grassroots organization that propelled Obama to victory seemed
to evaporate into thin air in the months after the election. For the
campaigners, separated by a both intellectual and bureaucratic walls
from the policy, it was as though someone somewhere had flipped a
switch that turned off the American people. In fact, people in another
building had simply taken away what the people had been fighting for.

The miracle of the Obama campaign was that political strategists who
believed in the American people enough to present them with a big
vision were in charge--or at least had enough control to make a
difference. One of the criticisms in the Luce piece is that the
administration is jumping, like a campaign, from one crisis to the
next. But think back to how the campaign dealt with one of its most
telling crises. Obama's "race speech," delivered in an attempt to get
out from under a mountain of Jeremiah Wright headlines, assumed the
best about America, and flowed from the same big, inspiring frame as
everything else in the campaign. It talked up to America, not down. It
was deep, complex and 45 minutes long. And it worked: It drew America
closer to Obama, and it pushed the "Obama Hates Whitey" storyline to
the margins of the campaign. In one sign of its appeal, the YouTube
video of the full ad was second in view count only to one of Obama dancing on the Ellen Degeneres Show.

In other words, not only did the campaign call America to an
overarching big, inspiring mission (countless variations on the themes
of "A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes
again.") but it responded to daily crises from that same frame.

The Rahm Administration is failing because it believes that the
Obama Campaign's big, inspiring message was in fact hippy BS.
Unfortunately, most of Rahm's beltway critics agree with him on that
score. What the Luce article mainly shows is merely that they are
unhappy with the way they've been treated, or that they have some
technical issues with the way the White House has been operating.

The fringes of the Progressive movement contain a different kind of
critic, a new generation of campaigner-visionaries who believe in the
big ideas of the Obama campaign, and who are waiting for a chance to
make them real in a future administration. Will Obama reboot his White
House to include them? Or will their time come only in 2016, or later?
Here's a suggestion: let's keep our fingers crossed about the present,
but let's start spending a little more of our time planning explicitly
for 2016. That may sound far off and therefore like a cop out, but it's
exactly that kind of planning, and nothing less, that put the country
in the hands of these "New Democrats."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.