John Heilemann’s New York magazine article about President Obama’s White House staff shake-up makes the Chicago mayoralty seem like just another Cabinet position. And it makes Rahm Emanuel’s resignation as chief of staff sound like a reassignment to City Hall.
Heilemann is the author of Game Change, the best-selling 2008 campaign journal. He’s working on a new book about Obama’s final election.
Heilemann’s article, which is the latest account of White House staffers blaming Emanuel for the administration’s disorganization, makes it clear that the chief of staff’s balls-out style had worn out its welcome in Washington. One of Obama’s goals for the second half of his first term, writes author John Heilemann, is “[t]o put behind his White House the frenetic, transactional, shambolic style of former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.”
“Rahm always wanted to win the day, win the week, at the expense of a longer-term focus,” says a senior White House official. “So we’d set up a plan to drive the economic message for a week, and then something would happen, so we would switch and do something different. The legislative calendar was all over the place. Everything had a certain madhouse quality about it.”
Emanuel, who raising money for Mayor Daley while Obama was still in law school, is a bridge between the Daleys and the Obamanauts. The whole deal has worked out quite neatly: Mayor Daley decided to retire, giving Emanuel a reason to leave the White House. Emanuel then lobbied Obama to hire Daley’s brother, Bill, for the chief of staff’s job. Although they’re not saying it publicly, the Daleys are supporting Emanuel. And, according to Heilemann’s article, Emanuel “remains in constant e-mail contact with Obama.”
The article contrasts Emanuel’s style with the coolness of Bill Daley and David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager who is joining the White House as a senior advisor. Plouffe is replacing David Axelrod, who is moving back to Chicago to run Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Axelrod’s old communications firm, AKPD Message and Media LLC, has so far been paid $2.2 million to produce Emanuel’s TV spots.
Plouffe, even more than Daley, is the obverse of the former White House chief of staff: Calm, cool, and relentlessly collected, he is the anti-Rahm. It may be that Emanuel’s manic energy and deal-making prowess were essential to Obama’s achievements in the first two years; certainly the president believes that. But he also clearly feels that in the phase ahead, he needs more of the rigor and discipline that Plouffe can provide.
When Obama was elected president, we thought Chicago was taking over the Washington, D.C. Now, it seems there’s no clear line between the White House and City Hall.
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