Rahm Emanuel: Dangerous Internal Enemy Of Our Country
I've been on Rahm-watch since 2005 and I can't imagine there's any chance he'd resign as mayor of Chicago unless it was part of a plea deal to keep him out of prison... and I don't see that happening either. As Michelle Hackman explained at Vox yesterday "[t]o the casual observer, it’s not totally clear how the furor surrounding a police video could possibly lead to the resignations of elected officials."
The video is certainly hard to watch, and people are rightly revolted that a mayor may have stifled its release for personal political gain. But in other places where similar videos have been released-- in New York City, where police were recorded holding Eric Garner in a lethal chokehold, or in South Carolina, where an officer shot an unarmed Walter Scott after a routine traffic stop-- the videos did not lead to demands that mayors resign.And that brings us to The Sudden But Well-Deserved Fall of Rahm Emanuel, a piece by celebrated American historian Rick Perlstein in the new New Yorker. He recalls Rahm's emergence as a "superstar" in 1991, but a "superstar," though Rahm's superstar status was always in the grubby pursuit of other people's money and an ability get away with the role of bully. Democrats now look at Rahm and get severe "buyer’s remorse." I was proud he included me as one of those who always knew and said "that this emperor never had any clothes on in the first place. Given the speed and intensity of his fall, perhaps it’s time to reconsider their case."
But from the activists’ perspective, Emanuel’s offenses against the city’s minority communities stretch back far beyond the suppression of a video. "All this began with the Laquan case," said La Shawn Ford, a state representative who introduced a bill last week creating a process to recall Emanuel from office. "But that, that was just the tip of the iceberg."
...Right around the time Emanuel had entered office, a coalition of activists calling themselves "Stand Up! Chicago" had begun protest actions against symbols of extreme wealth: disrupting a meeting of the Mortgage Brokers Association and occupying a wing of one of Chicago’s most upscale hotels.
The protesters are aligned with a national progressive movement, the same ideological drive that swept Bill de Blasio and Eric Garcetti into office in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. Emanuel fueled the movement in Chicago when, in 2011, he shut down that city’s Occupy protests, preventing them from creating encampments like the tent city erected in New York’s Zuccotti Park.
What’s interesting about this progressive element in Chicago is how closely tied it is to the city’s teachers union, which participated in actions at least a year earlier than the 2012 strike.
The close linkage means two things: First, that by the time Emanuel went after Chicago’s schools, teachers were already seasoned street activists.
And second, their close ties with the progressive movement meant that when Emanuel went after schools in poor neighborhoods, the union-- which already uses racially charged language to describe the city’s racial and economic divides-- had a preexisting relationship with minority communities to trumpet a racialized message.
...It was into this already fractious climate that the video of the Laquan McDonald shooting was released... It’s possible that more damning evidence against Emanuel will surface through the Justice Department’s investigation. As of now, though, it does not appear that Emanuel has actually violated any laws.
That hasn’t stopped protesters from demanding his resignation, even drowning out the mayor’s uncharacteristically emotional public apology about the shooting, which Emanuel said "happened on my watch."
To the protesters, his crime is one of flagrant abdication of morality, rather than any particular action that could spur his removal from office. Their anger, foisted into national prominence by the Black Lives Matter movement, has adopted the mayor as a symbol of white, corporate interests-- one that has further segregated the city through school closings and police brutality.
Activists and political observers alike think it’s unlikely the mayor will resign-- this is the man who once mailed a political opponent a dead fish, after all-- unless new evidence implicating his involvement in a cover-up surfaces. Rep. Ford’s recall bill was dead on arrival in the state legislature, where Emanuel allies populate the top ranks.
But from this vantage point, it’s hard to see the mayor’s way forward. More than three weeks after the video’s release, Chicago is still embroiled in protests, which continue to make daily headlines. For his part, Emanuel has been making few public appearances.
...A recent poll taken by the Chicago Observer found that 51 percent of Chicagoans want their mayor to resign, and only 18 percent approve of the job he’s doing-- a record low for Emanuel’s tenure.
In order to move forward, Emanuel will need to win back some of the trust he has forfeited, though activists can’t even name specific actions they would accept as peace offerings. Other political watchers say it’s possible Emanuel will just cruise through the worst of the protests until anger begins to fade.
Start with the 1992 Presidential campaign. Emanuel persuaded Clinton to prioritize raising money. This, to put it lightly, caught up with him. And while Emanuel was never tied to the fund-raising chicanery involving forgotten names like James Riady, Yah-Lin Trie, and John Huang, it was that zeal for cash that provided Clinton’s Presidency its original taint of scandal. Obsessive fund-raising is also the foundation of Emanuel’s political operation in Chicago. When two reporters for the Chicago Reader filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Mayor’s private schedule in 2011 (unlike previous mayors, his public schedule was pretty much blank), they discovered that he almost never met with community leaders. He did, though, spend enormous blocs of time with the rich businessmen, including Republicans, who had showered him with cash.
There are moral complaints to be made about this, to be sure. But it has also failed Emanuel on political grounds: when he found himself in trouble, he was left without a broad base of political support, unlike the previous mayor, Richard M. Daley, who in similar straits fell back on his close relationships in all fifty city wards. When one of those rich Republicans donors-- Bruce Rauner, with whom Rahm has vacationed-- became Illinois’s governor last year, at least the scolds could comfort themselves that their mayor would enjoy privileged access to lobby for the city’s needs. But that hasn’t worked, either: instead, Rauner has given Rahm the cold shoulder.
But return to Washington in the early nineteen-nineties, when a grateful Clinton awarded his young charge a prominent White House role. There, Emanuel’s prodigious energy, along with his contempt for what he called “liberal theology,” rocketed him higher and higher into the Clinton stratosphere. “He gets things done,” Clinton’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, enthused late in 1996, when Emanuel usurped George Stephanopoulos as senior advisor for policy and strategy. Among his special projects was helping to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 crime bill. He also tried to push Clinton to the right on immigration, advising the President, in a memo in November, 1996, to work to “claim and achieve record deportations of criminal aliens.” These all, in the fullness of time, turned out to be mistakes.
NAFTA, in alienating the Party’s working-class base, contributed to the Democrats losing control of the House of Representatives in 1994. As for the crime bill, which included a “three strikes” provision that mandated life terms for criminals convicted of violent crimes even if their other two offenses were nonviolent, Clinton himself has apologized for it, saying that the policy “made the problem worse.” The attempt to out-Republican the Republicans on immigration never took off. Republicans are the party solely associated with vindictive immigration policies, which leaves them in the long-term crisis they’re finding themselves in now-- identified as anathema by Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group. If Rahm had had his way, that never would have happened.
After Washington, Emanuel made eighteen million dollars in two and a half years as an investment banker. (His buddy Rauner helped get him his job.) He came back home—although diehards will insist that Emanuel isn’t really a Chicagoan, having grown up in suburban Wilmette—and won a congressional seat in 2004. His next step was chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in charge of recruiting House candidates. In 2006, he got credit when Democrats took back the lower chamber. One Democratic strategist from California who saw him working a room of worshipful admirers shortly afterward marvelled, “Inside the Beltway, Rahm is like … well, not Dylan or Madonna but maybe Britney or Paris.”
But that achievement disintegrates the more closely it’s examined. At the D-Trip, as the D.C.C.C. known, Emanuel aggressively recruited right-leaning candidates, frequently military veterans, including former Republicans. But many of his hand-picked choices fared poorly, losing in general elections. Some even lost in their primaries, to candidates backed by liberals-- many of whom won congressional seats resoundingly, even after the D.C.C.C. abandoned them.
The foundations were rotten and now we have massive GOP control
Victory, like defeat, can have a hundred fathers, and we can’t know what was ultimately responsible for the Democrats’ success that November. Anger at Republicans for the Iraq War (which Emanuel supported) certainly drove many voters’ decisions. What is indisputable is that the 2006 majority proved to be a rickety one. Critics argue that, even where Emanuel’s strategy succeeded in the short term, it undermined the Party over time. One of his winners, the football star Heath Shuler, of North Carolina, would not even commit to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, and was one of many Rahm recruits to vote against important Obama Administration priorities, like economic stimulus, banking reform, and health care. Many are no longer congressmen. Some Democrats now argue that, in the long run, 2006 might have weakened the Party more than it strengthened it. “Rahm’s recruitment strategy” was “catastrophic,” the retired record executive Howie Klein, who helps run a political action committee that funds liberal congressional challengers, said, and it contributed to the massive G.O.P. majorities we have now, the biggest since the nineteen-twenties.
Obviously, that conclusion wasn’t shared by Barack Obama in 2009, when he named Emanuel as his White House chief of staff. There, however, Emanuel’s signature strategy—committing Obama only to initiatives they knew in advance would succeed, in order to put “points on the board”—nearly waylaid the President’s most historic accomplishment: health-care reform. Emanuel wanted to scale it back almost to the vanishing point. It took a concerted effort by Speaker Pelosi to convince the President otherwise. This time, it was Emanuel who apologized: “Thank God for the country he didn’t listen to me,” he said after the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, in 2012.
By then Emanuel had became the mayor of Chicago, elected with fifty-five per cent of the vote in the spring of 2011. Since then, there have been so many scandals in Emanuel’s administration which have failed to gain traction that it’s hard to single them out. One signature idea was lengthening Chicago’s school day by thirty per cent-- controversial because he proposed to compensate teachers only two per cent more for the extra work. The Chicago public schools’ inspector general was soon investigating allegations that a local pastor linked to Emanuel was arranging buses to pack public hearings with supporters of the idea, paying at least two “protesters” twenty-five to fifty dollars each.
The city also rolled out a new “smart card” system for customers to pay transit fares, a product of the San Diego-based defense contractor Cubic. The system, known as Ventra, worked about as well as Lucille Ball on a factory production line: some people would get on the bus for free, while others would be charged several times. The cards were supposed to double as debit cards for Chicago’s “unbanked” poor. But buried deep within the thousand-page contract with Cubic were nice little Easter eggs, like the seven-dollar fee for customers who didn’t use the card for eighteen months, and another five dollars tacked on for each dormant month after that.
...Now the sins of Emanuel are finally catching up with him. Lucky for him, however, the compounding police-shooting scandal has erased from the news a peccadillo from this past November: the Mayor’s press team was eavesdropping and recording reporters while they interviewed aldermen critical of the mayor. A spokesman responded to the press by saying that their only intent was also “to make sure reporters have what you need, which is exactly what you have here.” That made no sense. But then, so much of the legend of Rahm Emanuel’s brilliant career makes little sense. The bigger question, perhaps, is what this says about a political party and the political press that bought the legend in the first place.