Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
In today's Washington Post, Jason Horowitz writes:
Hotheaded Emanuel may be White House voice of reason: Rahm Emanuel is officially a Washington caricature. He's the town's resident leviathan, a bullying, bruising White House chief of staff who is a prime target for the failings of the Obama administration. But a contrarian narrative is emerging: Emanuel is a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs, and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts. It is a view propounded by lawmakers and early supporters of President Obama who are frustrated because they think the administration has gone for the perfect at the expense of the plausible. They believe Emanuel, the town's leading purveyor of four-letter words, a former Israeli army volunteer and a product of a famously argumentative family, was not aggressive enough in trying to persuade a singularly self-assured president and a coterie of true-believer advisers that "change you can believe in" is best pursued through accomplishments you can pass...
The problem with this opening is that it is false.
Everyone in the White House knows that there is a choice to be made between setting out markers and passing bills, and that when one is trying to pass a bill there is a choice between passing a small bill with overwhelming support and gambling on a big bill. People inside the White House are always trying their best to figure out where the sweet spot is: different people have different views, the same people have different views on different days, and the same people on the same day have different views warring inside their brains. Horowitz writes that:
[B]efore Obama and his advisers settled on a [health care] policy of expansive scope, Emanuel back in August suggested a smaller bill that would be easier to pass, according to another administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations...
But everybody who has walked through the door to the West Wing over the past year has said: "perhaps you should be pushing a smaller bill that would be easier to pass." I know I have--even though I tend to think that this bill (which is, remember, Mitt Romney's health care plan) is the "smaller bill." And I was at one meeting a while ago with two of potential cabinet-rank Democrats where both of them said "perhaps they should have been pushing a smaller bill that would be easier to pass"--even though they are among the left most of potential cabinet-rank Democrats.
And with respect to "jobs," Ryan Lizza reports that the call to go for a smaller ARRA that was certain to pass rather than a larger one that might not was Emmanuel's to make, and he made it, and neither Summers nor Romer nor Geithner nor Orszag have any complaints with the process: given the shape of the congress and knowledge about the state of the economy at the time, it looked like the best thing to do and was the outcome of a good process.
To claim that Rahm Emmanuel has been the only person close to Obama trying to pass bills and that everyone else wants to simply lay down markers--and that Emmanuel's error is that he was "not aggressive enough in trying to persuade a singularly self-assured president and a coterie of true-believer adviers..."--is as false as false can be.
And Jason Horowitz knows that it is false: he is not a dumb man.
So why is Horowitz writing this? I see four possibilities:
Horowitz is writing it because he wants favor points from Rahm Emmanuel, and Rahm Emmanuel wants him to write it. Why? Because Rahm thinks that he is on the way out as a sacrificial lamb for the poor state of the economy and the lack of a really big first-year legislative accomplishment unless he can find an alternative sacrificial lamb--and Emmanuel has choen Axelrod.
Horowitz is writing it because he wants favor points from some people who think well of Rahm Emmanuel, and they want him to write it. They fear that Rahm's position is shaky and want to shore it up--or, if Rahm's position can't be shored up, they want to establish that he was a good servant of the president who tried his very best.
Horowitz is writing it because he wants favor points from people who wish Rahm Emmanuel ill. They think that if pro-Rahm articles apparently informed by leaks from Rahm start appearing in the press, Obama will be displeased.
Horowitz is writing it not because anybody wants him to and not because there is any dispute within Obama's most senior advisors, but because "fight inside the White House" is an article any journalist can make a splash by writing.
There is at least one clue dropped in the article that either number 3 or number 4 is the right one. Horowitz writes:
Hotheaded Emanuel may be White House voice of reason: the Rahm-knows-better-than-the-president notion, increasingly spread by his allies and articulated in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank last month, is, regardless of its relation to reality, creating more tension for the chief of staff inside the White House and drawing more scrutiny from outside...
For Horowitz to describe the main theme of his article with the words "regardless of its relation to reality" is, in my view, revealing.
But what I really wish is that Horowitz would put a tag at the end of his article, saying which of my four possibilities it falls under. As it is, it is not an act of journalism but rather of courtiership--a very different enterprise...
Plus: in today's Post, bonus lies from Orrin Hatch.