Obama's chief of fixing

November 14, 2008

In the world of Washington insider politics, it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Rahm Emanuel is a prime example.

When president-elect Barack Obama announced that Emanuel was his pick for chief of staff, he selected a seasoned power-broker with decades of experience manoeuvring in the halls of government <197 >in other words, the opposite of the change from the status quo that many Obama supporters hope for.

As a part of former president Bill Clinton's administration, Emanuel helped shape the Clinton's "New Democrat" policies — positions that were designed to distance the Democratic Party from its base among the unions and social movement organisations.

The destruction of welfare, the North American Free Trade Agreement, two crime bills that fuelled the American incarceration binge — Emanuel had a hand in all of them.

Clinton and Emanuel's aim was to remake the Democratic Party's relationship to Corporate America after the era of liberalism ebbed during the Reagan presidency.

And in large part, they were successful.

Emanuel got his job in the Clinton White House after raising some US$71 million for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. And he got that job via the connections he made in Chicago machine politics.

By 1989, he was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's chief moneyman.

Clinton hired Emanuel to work in the White House as a strategist in his war room.

After his Clinton years, Emanuel got a job as an investment banker, despite the fact he'd never worked in a bank. "Putting together deals — arranging mergers and acquisitions, which is essentially what an investment banker does — is not unlike overseeing the passage of legislation", he told the Reader.

"You bring people together. You keep them talking. You learn when a no really could mean a yes."

Corporate mergers, welfare reform, whatever.

During two years in the banking game, Emanuel made $16.2 million. He also served on the board of Freddie Mac, which the SEC last year charged with accounting fraud for the years 1998-2002, overlapping with Emanuel's time there.

After winning a seat in Congress representing Illinois' 5th District in Chicago in 2002, Emanuel soon became head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

He did what he was good at — raise money. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, in his six years in Congress, Emanuel has raised $1.5 million in campaign donations from Wall Street employees.

Dubbed the Machiavelli of the 5th District, he set out to make his mark on the Democratic Congress. In keeping with his New Democrat philosophy, Emanuel pushed for several conservative Democratic candidates who wouldn't take up issues like the war on Iraq.

If Obama wanted to send a clear message to supporters of Israel not to worry, the appointment of Emanuel is it.

During the first Gulf War, Emanuel volunteered to help maintain Israeli army vehicles near the Lebanon border when Southern Lebanon was occupied by Israeli forces.

In Congress, he stood as a loyal supporter of Israel's apartheid state.

As Ali Abunimah pointed out in a November 5 article posted at Electronic Intifada: "In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President Bush.

"In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. 'We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror' …

"The letter said that Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders 'was clearly justified as an application of Israel's right to self-defense'."

Emanuel called the Lebanese and Palestinian governments "totalitarian entities with militias and terrorists acting as democracies" in a July 2006 speech supporting a House resolution backing Israel's bombing of those countries.

Emanuel supported the 2002 Iraq war resolution. He is a hawk against Iran. He voted in favour of making the Patriot Act permanent.

But whether the policies of Emanuel and the rest of the New Democrat mafia are the future for the Obama era will depend largely on what kind of opposition that activists build — based on the idea that change is not only possible but has to be fought for.

[Abridged from Socialist Worker.]

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