So, Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel didn’t get along in the White House. According to The Obamas, by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, the First Lady and the Chief of Staff had different notions about how Obama should pursue health care reform, the signature goal of his presidency.
Michelle, the South Sider who had fallen in love with the idealistic young man who moved to the South Side to help the poor, saw herself as the guardian of his idealism. She didn’t want his ambition to insure all of America’s children undermined by political compromise.
Rahm, on the other hand, learned politics from the Daleys, who Michelle saw as one of the white, Irish families who held on power in Chicago, generation after generation. They maintained their position by never getting ahead of the public’s desire for change, and fighting off “reform.” Rahm wanted the president to pursue health care reform by making incremental changes, perhaps realizing that an overreaching bill would cost the Democrats the congressional majority he built in the 2006 elections.
The conflict blew up after Sen. Scott Brown won a special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, by campaigning against Obamacare.
“The health care situation epitomized everything she disliked about politics, everything she had been arguing about with her husband for going on two decades: her skepticism about whether true change could be accomplished through the legislative process, the way serious ideas devolved into craven horse trading, the way you could risk and give so much and end up with nothing,” Kantor wrote.
Michelle prevailed on her husband to continue pushing for big health care, against the advice of his chief of staff. Emanuel was so unhappy about losing that power struggle, he offered the president his resignation. Obama refused it, but eventually helped his right-hand man find another job.
There’s an old saying that if two people agree on everything, one of them is irrelevant? There’s nothing wrong with a president having one adviser telling him to fly to the moon, and another reminding how expensive rocket fuel is. In fact, it sounds as though Rahm and Michelle complemented each other perfectly. It was said that Bill Clinton had a Saturday night persona and a Sunday morning persona -- the tension between his randy appetites and his religiosity. Obama has a Sunday morning persona and a Monday morning persona -- the difference between his Christian idealism and his unsentimental politicking.
Emanuel was asked about Kantor’s book during a press availability on Sunday.
“There’s tensions between me and the aldermen,” he said. “I’m very proud to have worked for the president and the First Lady, and very proud, and Amy and I are very proud to call them friends.”
Asked whether he thought the book was inaccurate, Emanuel replied, “I don’t read those books. When I read a book, I read interesting books.”
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!