Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 64

Dear Mr. President,

Michael Moore has written you a letter, asking to be installed in the place of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. When you picked Mr. Emanuel, back in 2008, I remember thinking, "Wow, he couldn't have picked any one more upsetting to Republicans in this country." (It was an admiring thought, not a critical one.) Clearly, I was just asking to be proven wrong.

Mr. Moore is a difficult character for me to embrace. I appreciate his issue-based crusades, his willingness to attack, rather than just play cautious defense. He gave a speech at my school, Willamette University, in 2004 shortly before Bush was re-elected. I recall being buoyed a bit, by his pugnacity, even as it made me uncomfortable. His methods are not always easy to agree with, his tactics often heavy handed and tending toward the ridiculous. But he does force the debate to take place on his terms, something I wish a few more of us on the left were capable of doing.

I can't decide if the rumblings about problems with the White House senior staff are just liberals who can't appreciate the difficulties of governing a country compared to the outsider's struggle just to be heard, or if they have a legitimate point. I think that shouting and grandstanding may help us, when we're in the minority, when we have no reasoned, legislative way to advance our agenda, but as the majority party, it doesn't sit well.

Back in 2008, I had hoped that your appointment of Mr. Emanuel, who is known for his pro-Israel views, would allow you the political cover to take truly drastic steps in repairing our credibility and effectiveness as a mediator with the Palestinians. Sadly, this has not come to pass. That being said, I haven't been disappointed in Mr. Emanuel's performance as Chief of Staff. If one accepts Mr. Moore's premise (and I don't) that your agenda has been completely held up by a lack of assertiveness on the part of the White House, I suppose that could be a good reason to look for a new COS. But I think, ultimately, that the responsibility has to be with you, sir, and not Mr. Emanuel. If a new COS will help advance our agenda, will wake up congressional Democrats and will give the impression of timely and substantial progress, than I support replacing him. (Though, hopefully, not with Michael Moore.) In the end, however, I think we both know that Mr. Emanuel is not the problem. Congress is the problem. Right now, Republicans have the same advantage over Democrats that the insurgents in Iraq had over coalition forces; we have to win, and they just have to keep from losing. I don't relish comparing governing to warfare; I would rather believe that we work with the Republicans, not against them, but their fierce partisanship, their pervasive obstinacy has made this an apt metaphor.

Read the letter from Mr. Moore with a grain of salt. He makes some valid points, which are worth considering, but he is wrong, I think, both about the lack of momentum and its supposed source. He won't be the last to call for a change in the senior staff, to be certain. I never thought I'd be defending Rahm Emanuel, Mr. President, but I think that your Chief of Staff is serving you well in what we all ought to understand is a long, difficult struggle.

Respectfully yours,


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