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Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why Rahm Emanuel Will Never Be President

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Why Rahm Emanuel Will Never Be President
Why Rahm Emanuel Will Never Be President

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel speaks with reporters after meeting with his transition committee on government reinvention and budget issues at Google's regional headquarters in Chicago, at 20 W. Kinzie St., on March 15, 2011.

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We all know that Rahm Emanuel is a little man looking for the biggest office he can climb into. Right now, that’s mayor of Chicago, but most Rahm-watchers believe that he wants to move on to governor, senator and then president. Once you’ve worked in D.C., being mayor of Chicago is a small-time job. You might as well be Morton Grove Village President for as close to the action as it gets you. It’s like a Broadway star joining the Goodman Theatre ensemble.

There may be a Gov. Emanuel or a Sen. Emanuel someday. But there will never be a President Emanuel. It’s not just because one Chicago Democrat per lifetime is all this country will accept. It’s because Emanuel is too much of a Chicago Democrat, and intensely regional politicians don’t fare well in national elections.

John McCain’s efforts to tie Obama to the Chicago Machine never worked because Obama doesn’t look or sound like everyone’s idea of a Chicago politicians. He’s slender, composed and African-American, not big, crude and ethnic. An outsider to Chicago, Obama is a cosmopolitan figure who appeals to people across racial and regional lines. And the fact is, he got his start in politics as a member of anti-Machine movements: first, he was an Alinsky-style community organizer, then he was a Hyde Park independent.

Emanuel, on the other hand, plugged himself directly into the Machine, beginning his career as a fundraiser for Mayor Daley. He went on to win a Congressional election with the help of Daley and a few hundred guys from the Water Department, then became mayor with Daley’s blessing. He also swears like a tipsy precinct captain who just missed a five-foot putt at the annual ward golf outing.

This helped Emanuel get the job as White House Chief of Staff. Obama obviously wants a political insider to complement his good-government persona. That’s why Emanuel was succeeded by Bill Daley. It helped Emanuel become mayor of Chicago. Chicagoans don’t mind Chicago politicians. We vote for them all the time. But in a presidential election, Emanuel’s opponents will hit him hard with his connections to the Daley Machine, which is not beloved beyond the Chicago city limits.

At least Emanuel will have the consolation of knowing someone considers him a real Chicagoan.

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!

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