Rahm Emanuel leaves the White House

October 1, 2010

First a bit from my Reuters Breakingviews column on the departure of Rahm Emanuel:

On a West Wing organizational chart, the profane and pugilistic Emanuel was Obama’s tough-guy bouncer, controlling the flow of people and information into the Oval Office. He was — as a humorous name plate in his office read — the Secretary for Go [Expletive] Yourself. But Emanuel was much more. He was Obama’s economic consigliere, virtual shadow treasury secretary, and de facto prime minister.

Indeed, it would be impossible to write an accurate financial history of the past two years without acknowledging the critical role Emanuel played. While still an Illinois congressman and House leader during the autumn of 2008, Emanuel helped push the $700 billion bank bailout bill through a reluctant Congress.

Once in the Obama White House, Emanuel massaged and manipulated the wonkery of the Obama economics team into a politically workable form. When some advisers pushed hard for a $1.2 trillion stimulus in early 2009, Emanuel downsized it, knowing that his old mates in Congress would balk such a lush package

And it was “Rahmbo” to the rescue after the stock market tanked in response to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s February 2009 speech on the banking crisis. Obama ordered Emanuel to whip the understaffed Treasury team into fighting trim. And that was just fine with the banks. They considered Emanuel — who made millions in a previous guise as a managing director at Wasserstein Perella — a fellow traveler.

So Wall Street is sad to see him go. Republicans should be, too — at least those who desire fiscal reform. Emanuel was a big believer that politics is the “art of the possible.” Obama will be under plenty of pressure from his unhappy liberal base to appoint a successor who will be the guardian of traditional liberal principles. But that’s a recipe for gridlock. America needs a closer, not an ideologue, whispering in the president’s ear.

Addendum: I think Obama tries to get a deal on spending, eventually agrees to one-year extension on all the Bush tax cuts, and — as they say — “draws some contrast” with the GOP on GSE reform. I think Pete Rouse will be a facilitator of that. But it is also amazing how little clarity there is about next year because of the potentially sweeping nature of the November midterms.

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