No more Mr. Nice Guy?

Rahm Emanuel apparently will be Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Emanuel has what I take to be a well-earned reputation as a fierce, ruthless, and often nasty partisan. Peter Wehner provides some amusing cases in point.

Some, including Wehner, have expressed disappointment that Obama, after promising to usher in a new era of politics, has turned to someone whose style has been described by Paul Begala as a “cross between a hemorrhoid and a toothache.” Perhaps because I never remotely took Obama’s post-partisan rhetoric seriously, I see the matter differently.

The ascension to the presidency of a given politician doesn’t repeal the rules of politics, one of which is that a president needs somewhat fierce and ruthless by his side. Whatever Obama decides to try and accomplish, he will require a key aide who answers to this description. It need not be the chief of staff (in the first George W. Bush administration, Vice President Cheney appears to have played something like this role) but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.

It should also help to have a chief of staff who knows his way around Congress and is influential there. Emanuel has served in Congress for years and helped with the election efforts of a significant number of Democratic members. The combination of ability to knock heads and knowledge of Congress strikes me as an excellent combination.

I suspect, moreover, that it is Democratic heads Emanuel will be knocking. Republican heads don’t count for much on Capitol Hill these days, and the Obama administration won’t be in much of a position to knock them, in any case.

UPDATE: Peter Wehner responds to my post here. To his credit, Pete is less cynical than I am.

Pete does agree that on the merits, at least, Obama probably could have done worse than Emanuel. He reminds us that during his days at the Clinton White House, Emanuel “was thought to be among the ‘third way’ forces.” It also strikes me that, to the extent Emanuel has any role in policy making regarding Israel, Obama could definitely do worse (though he could do better too).

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