Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Undersecretary Of Go Fuck Yourself-- Or Why Ryan Lizza Should Lose His License To Practice "Journalism"


If you happen to be strolling down Pennsylvania Ave. and hear someone screaming four letter expletives... well, it isn't Richard Nixon

H. R. Haldeman was the first official presidential chief of staff-- and the first chief of staff to wind up in prison. I'm praying that the damage Emanuel causes won't topple the whole administration and can be contained and results in only one prison sentence. The absolutely clueless and embarrassing puff piece he had Ryan Lizza write about him in the new New Yorker paints him as a naughty and sometimes besieged-- but always brilliant-- rapscallion rather than as a corrupt hack with a great knack for p.r., self aggrandizement and... not much else.

Lizza will never admit that Emanuel dictated the piece, of course-- no one ever does-- but his "critique" of the chief of staff certainly covers all the tropes Emanuel is always having trumpeted by the flacks he gives access. Emanuel's goal seems to have been to paint himself-- even in light of his month-long eye-popping string of screwups that have embarrassed President Obama again and again-- as Mr. Competence. To the undiscerning Ryan Lizza, Emanuel is "known for both his mercurial temperament and his tactical brilliance... When Emanuel left the Clinton Administration, in 1998, he moved back to Chicago, took a job as an investment banker, and in less than three years earned nearly twenty million dollars. In 2002, he won a congressional seat in the city on his first attempt. Three years later, he took over the D.C.C.C., and, more than anyone else, was responsible for restoring Democrats to power the following year. (Not a single Democratic incumbent lost in the general election.) By the time Obama came calling for a chief of staff, Emanuel was the Democratic Caucus chair, making him fourth in the House leadership, and on a path to becoming Speaker." So undiscerning.

I mean, look, earning $20 million in a matter of months as an investment bankster certainly says something, doesn't it? Mr. Jones Lizza doesn't bother figuring out what, though-- just flying the Protestant ethic flag for Emanuel. And though there isn't a word about Blagojevich and only one passing reference to NAFTA, two dirty words that made Rahm Emanuel a Democratic power, Lizza lauds, without explaining, his first congressional win in a race Lizza somehow neglects to explain was so sleazy and corrupt that even by Chicago Machine standards it was shocking. As for Emanuel's DCCC tactical brilliance... well, where to begin? How's about with Emanuel's two top recruits in 2006, a pair of Republicans he got to run as Democrats, Heath Shuler (NC) and Tim Mahoney (FL). Shuler is a rising power among the Blue Dog caucus, votes with Republicans almost more than any other Democrat in Congress, threatened not to vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, paired up with Tom Tancredo to push a viciously anti-Hispanic immigration bill, and opposed the Stimulus legislation (although, like a Republican, takes credit for the money that his district will see from it!). Now, Mahoney was a millionaire and an admitted Republican and Emanuel, with a little Insider information, persuaded him to switch party registration to run against a popular incumbent in a very Republican district. Once Emanuel forced the actual Democrat, Dave Lutrin, out of the race and Mahoney became the nominee, news broke that the incumbent, Mark Foley, had an ugly sex scandal on his hands. Mahoney-- purely a creature of Rahm Emanuel-- went on to win a convincing victory, the timing of Foley's scandal being so perfect that even though he resigned and withdrew, he couldn't get his name off the ballot. Congressman Mahoney then went on to vote, like Shuler, for the Republican principles and values in his heart. He also cultivated his own ugly little sex scandal and after just two short years was ignominiously defeated for re-election. I bet Lizza hasn't heard of either Shuler or Mahoney. In fact, reading his piece today made me wonder if his trip to visit Emanuel was the first time he'd ever been to Washington, DC.

The closest the toadie-ish Lizza comes to criticizing Emanuel is by way of impersonal anecdote about chief of staff history:
Over the years, some clear patterns about what kind of person succeeds in the job have emerged. James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University who has written extensively on the history of the office, cites four chiefs of staff as notable failures: [Sherman] Adams, Haldeman, Donald Regan, who was Ronald Reagan's second chief of staff, and John Sununu, George H. W. Bush's first chief of staff. "All of them got power-hungry, they alienated members of Congress, they alienated members of their own Administration, they had reputations for a lack of common civility, and they had hostile relations with the press. And each one of them resigned in disgrace and hurt their Presidents," Pfiffner said. "Being able to be firm and tough without being obnoxious and overbearing is crucial."

I can picture Lizza sending a draft over to Emanuel's office-- for fact checking, of course-- and Emanuel having an aide get back to him with a suggestion that he follow that with something like "Emanuel's début as chief of staff featured him on the Hill making deals with lawmakers-- politely and with due deference, by all accounts..." Yes, I'm sure... every single one. Lizza, though missing, intentionally or otherwise, everything about Emanuel's history that makes him uniquely unsuitable for the job, did pass along the advice Bush's last chief of staff, Joshua Bolten says emerged from a breakfast he hosted for Emanuel and 11 other former chiefs of staff. Lizza quotes him (directly) saying, "One of the interesting bits of advice that emerged from the breakfast was that you probably shouldn't be a political principal yourself. You need to put aside your own personality and profile and adopt one that serves your boss. I'm not saying you necessarily have to have a low profile, but it can't really be your own independent profile. It's got to be the profile your boss wants reflected, and it has to be a profile that does not compete with the rest of the Cabinet."

So far Emanuel has lived up to his reputation as an egomaniac, glory hound and anal retentive drama queen. As his friend and roommate, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg told Lizza (who doesn't seem to have gotten "it," or at least his role in "it," Emanuel crafts his image carefully to manipulate his public. Remember, for years before he was caught in the lie, he had lost a finger battling a Syrian tank on the Golan Heights, not slicing a pastrami sandwich at a Chicago deli when he wasn't practicing his ballet steps. (He had been in Israel but nowhere near the Golan Heights or any other battlefields; he was learning to make potholders and lanyards at a summer camp at a kibbutz for rich American children.) Greenberg: "He doesn't mind bad publicity. It's part of his cachet, it's part of why he's able to be effective." Depends on who creates the bad publicity; he loves the kind he creates himself-- through naive shills like Lizza-- but when someone throws a little reality in his face, he is quick to lose control of his volatile temper, something that must be devastating for a control freak. In Lizza's only worthwhile moment of the entire drawn out piece, he portrays Emanuel's seething resentment towards someone who actually is an accomplished individual, Paul Krugman. Jane over at FDL not only recounts the Krugman episode, but managed to get Paul to reply:
The question is why Obama didn't ask for what the economy needed, then bargain from there. My view is that Collins et al would have demanded $100 billion in cuts from whatever they started from; and that's not the case he answers.

With publicists like Ryan Lizza trying to pass themselves off as journalists-- and, for the most part, getting away with it, thank the Lord there are people like Jane Hamsher paying attention... oh, and twice in one day!
When Rahm Emanuel went looking for a loyal stenographer to dictate a canonical piece on himself, no surprise his gaze landed on Ryan Lizza, who did the honors for Chuck Schumer in the recent past (wherein Lizza called Russ Feingold "an ass" for proposing a censure resolution against George Bush).  This week's New Yorker carries the 5200 word lap dance in which Rahm finds universal praise from sources carefully chosen to heap said praise upon him.  Paul Krugman gets bashed by Rahm but sadly, there is no room for him to respond.

Today I bantered a little with Emanuel's roomie, Stanley Greenberg and I want to end with something else perceptive he had to say about Emanuel to Lizza: "He's a partisan in the sense that he's a strong Democrat, but he's not an ideological Democrat. He's not ideologically liberal. He comes out of Chicago politics, which is more transactional." Very. And, yes, he's tougher-- or something-- than a pathetic old coot like Ben Nelson.

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