Governing from the center

Berkeley Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, sent out a missive early today discussing “why many of us were shocked and deeply disappointed when we learned on Thursday that Congressman Rahm Emanuel was to be the Chief of Staff in the Obama White House.”

Emanuel, for those who don’t recall, was the Congressman who traveled the country in 2006 finding “suitable” candidates in “swing districts” to run against Republican incumbents, and in many instances he succeeded. But his theory of how to succeed was destructive: he sought the most conservative possible candidates in each district, insisting that local Democratic Party organizations reject more liberal candidates who, he feared, might not win.

There were many among the House Democrats who deplored this tactic. The main issue on the mind of the electorate was the war in Iraq, and public opinion had moved so far in opposition to that war that the Democratic leadership in the House was pushed to proclaim that it would cut off funding for the war if Democrats won control of Congress. Well, the outcome was that Democrats did win control, but since the candidates that Emanuel picked were more conservative and militarist than the mainstream of the Party, they were not reliable allies when it came to voting against war funding. Instead of cutting fund for the war, Nancy Pelosi’s House increased the funding, explaining that they had to appear “responsible” in order to solidify their control of Congress in 2008..

Clever? Not for the people, Americans and Iraqis, killed or wounded in the meantime.

This was no mistake on Emanuel’s part. Rahm Emanuel has a long history of militarist ideology behind him. His father was a member of the ultra-right-wing terrorist organization Etzel that killed British civilians as part of their anti-British struggle in Palestine in the 1940s. Emanuel, himself a citizen of Israel as well as the United States, has been one of several Congressional leaders enforcing the “Israel Lobby” concensus on the Democrats, in the process shutting out the peace voices that believe Israel’s security would be better served by the U.S. putting pressure on Israel to end the Occupation, move the Wall to inside the pre-67 boundaries, and remove the settlers from the West Bank or tell them to live there as Palestinian citizens.

It’s not just the pro-peace and reconciliation forces that are unlikely to be given a serious hearing in a White House in which Rahm Emanuel controls who gets to talk to the President. Emanuel will almost certainly be protecting Obama from all of us spiritual progressives and those of us who describe ourselves as the Religious Left-so that our commitment to single-payer universal health care, carbon taxes for environmental protection, a Homeland Security strategy based on generosity and implemented through a Global Marshall Plan, will be unlikely to get a serious hearing in the White House.

Lest you think this is just another case of Democrats eating their own young, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement yesterday blasting — you guessed it — Obama’s pick of Emanuel: “This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.”

But Boehner and Lerner surely both know that governing from the center is exactly what Obama intends to do — it’s just that neither Boehner nor Lerner are anywhere near the center themselves.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has slid smoothly from producing hit pieces on candidate Obama to producing hit pieces on president-elect Obama.

Yesterday’s “OBAMA’S BROKEN PROMISE” briefing e-mail whined about Emanuel’s appointment, and today’s “MORE PARTISAN PLAYERS” piece complains about how campaign strategist David Axelrod — whose Chicago-based firm‘s client list is a who’s who of local, state and national Democrats — is likely to get a senior White House advisory post.

Um… duh. Bridging partisan divides doesn’t mean Obama won’t name Democrats and Democratic operatives to his administration; they just have to be capable of implementing his vision. Every president has political advisors, and every smart president hires the toughest, smartest, most bare-knuckled people he knows for such posts. Did the RNC think Obama would invite Karl Rove back to the White House in the spirit of bipartisanship? Or appoint only independents? Absurd.

And for one of these notoriously partisan “RNC Research Briefings” to complain about partisanship is the height of unmitigated gall.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.