Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Does Republican Representative John Boehner, the in-the-dumps House minority leader, have a point when he criticizes President-elect Barack Obama for tapping Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel to be his White House chief of staff? Boehner says:
This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.
Boehner misunderstood--or is now, for political gain, misrepresenting--Obama's call for cooperation and productivity in Washington as a vow to govern from the center. The policy proposals Obama presented during the campaign were mostly progressive. Hey, doesn't Boehner remember that Obama was blasted as an anti-American liberal and socialist by Boehner's fellow GOPers? They didn't seem to believe he was going to govern from the center.
Despite the isn't-he-supposed-to-be-a-centrist spin, Boehner is not incorrect in noting that Emanuel is not known as a nonpartisan agent of change in Washington. As the leading fundraiser for Democrats in the House in the 2006 election, Emanuel, a fierce partisan, did do much to change Washington by winning the House back for the Democrats. But he's a walking advertisement for how Washington does business (see here and here)--as is the less-successful Boehner.
By selecting Emanuel as first big appointment, Obama teed up the this-ain't-really-change ball for Boehner. And Boehner whacked it down the fairway. On Friday, Obama is slated to hold a meeting with his top economic advisers. The speculation is that afterward he may have something to say about other appointments. Obama believers ought to hope he doesn't again make it easy for Boehner.
The Obama administration is already under way. And a new theme begins for the Obama tale: is he bringing real change to Washington?
The day after Barack Obama's historic and decisive victory, various media outlets are reporting that the president-elect has picked Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to be his White House chief of staff. Emanuel is one of the more colorful characters in Washington: a sharp-tongued, quick-witted partisan. He was one of the original Clinton warriors--those political operatives who guided Bill Clinton to the White House and then went to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He put in five years on the front lines of the Clinton wars--longer than most of his comrades--and then left to make millions of dollars in the private sector. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2002 and soon became the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Leading the DCCC, Emanuel was a prolific fundraiser and engineered the 2006 election wins that allowed the Democrats to regain control of the House.
A Washington player he is. Mother Jonesprofiled him and examined his tough-guy ways in 1993, a few months into his stint at the Clinton White House. When Emanuel left the Clinton White House in October 1998--during the Monica Madness--The Washington Post summed up his years there:
With his decisive triumph over Senator John McCain, Senate Barack Obama made obvious history: he is the first black (or biracial) man to win the presidency. But the meaning of his victory--in which Obama splashed blue across previously red states--extends far beyond its racial significance. Obama, a former community organizer and law professor, won the White House as one of the most progressive (or liberal) nominees in the Democratic Party's recent history. Mounting one of the best run presidential bids in decades, Obama tied his support for progressive positions (taxing the wealthy to pay for tax cuts for working Americans, addressing global warming, expanding affordable health insurance, withdrawing troops from Iraq) to calls for cleaning up Washington and for crafting a new type of politics. Charismatic, steady, and confident, he melded substance and style into a winning mix that could be summed up in simple and basic terms: hope and change.
After nearly eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, Obama was the non-Bush: intelligent, curious, thoughtful, deliberate, and competent. His personal narrative--he was the product of an unconventional family and worked his way into the nation's governing class--fueled his campaign narrative. His story was the American Dream v2.0. He was change, at least at skin level. But he also championed the end of Bushism. He had opposed the Iraq war. He had opposed Bush's tax cuts for the rich. He was no advocate of let-'er-rip, free market capitalism or American unilateralism. In policy terms, Obama represents a serious course correction.
And more. In the general election campaign, McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, turned the fight for the presidency into a culture clash. They accused Obama of being a socialist. They assailed him for having associated with William Ayers, a former, bomb-throwing Weather Underground radical,who has since become an education expert. Palin indirectly referred to Obama's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who once preached fiery sermons denouncing the United States government for certain policies. On the campaign trail, Palin suggested there were "real" parts of America and fake parts. At campaign events, she promoted a combative, black-helicopter version of conservatism: if you're for government expansion, you're against freedom. During her one debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, she hinted that if her opponents won the White House there might come a day when kids would ask their grandparents what it had been like to live in a free country. At McCain-Palin rallies, supporters shouted out, "Communist!" and "terrorist!" and "Muslim!" when the Republican candidates referred to Obama. And McCain and Palin hurled the standard charges at Obama: he will raise your taxes and he is weak on national security.
Put it all together and the message was clear: there are two types of Americans. Those who are true Americans--who love their nation and cherish freedom--and those who are not. The other Americans do not put their country first; they blame it first. The other Americans do not believe in opportunity; they want to take what you have and give it to someone else. The other Americans do not care about Joe the Plumber; they are out-of-touch elitists who look down on (and laugh at) hard-working, church-going folks. The other Americans do not get the idea of America. They are not patriots. And it just so happens that the other America is full of blacks, Latinos, gays, lesbians, and non-Christians.
McCain, Palin and their compatriots did what they could to depict Obama as the rebel chief of this other un-American America. (Hillary Clinton helped set up their effort during the primaries by beating the Ayers drum.) Remember the stories of Obama's supposed refusal to wear a flag pin or place his hand over his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance? The emails about Obama being a secret Muslim? The goal was to delegitimize Obama, as well as the Americans who were moved by his biography, his rhetoric, and his ideas. It was back to the 1960s--drawing a harsh line between the squares (the real Americans) and the freaks (those redistribution-loving, terrorist-coddling faux Americans).
Barack Obama concluded his campaign for the presidency on Monday, November 3, with a rally in Manassas, Virginia. The event's location was one final sign that Obama has made good on his promise to expand the electoral map for Democrats — Virginia has not voted for a Democrat in 44 years and yet Obama holds a five point lead going into Election Day. The supporters Mother Jones found appeared touched by the unique appeal that may allow Obama to win red states like Virginia tonight. They were convinced Obama would heal the nation's wounds, end the nation's wars, and fix the nation's economic troubles. When asked for a way a President Obama might disappoint them, few could think of anything to say.
In September 2003, I published a book immoderately titled, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. Its contention was a simple one: that Bush had gone beyond the normal boundaries of presidential spin in using falsehoods and misrepresentations to skew the public discourse on many fronts: stems cells, global warming, tax policy, and, above all, the invasion of Iraq.
At the time, this was not--in certain circles--a well-received argument. Conservative pundits, pointing to my book and others that came out at the time (Al Franken's Lying Liars, Molly Ivins' Bushwhacked, written with Lou Dubose, and Joe Conason's Big Lies), declared a new phenomenon was at hand: rabid, irrational Bush hatred. MSM commentators, ever looking to reside within the comfortable, above-it-all middle, observed that the left was now mirroring the extreme rhetoric of the Limbaugh-crazy, Coulter-loving right. I noted some examples of this dismissive reax in a recent Mother Jones essay. The New York Times' Matt Bai, citing my book, wrote, "the new leftist screeds seem to solidify a rising political culture of incivility and overstatement." Conservative columnist David Brooks proclaimed that "the core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves." (Yes, I was more dangerous than George W. Bush.) What few of these commentators of the center and right bothered to do was to evaluate the case I (and the others) had put forward. That is, to confront the facts I had presented. Their aim was to discredit the very idea of anyone going so far as to call the president of the United States a liar. And National Review editor Rich Lowry opined, "I don't think the public is going to buy the idea that [Bush is] a liar."
Lowry got it wrong. By Election Day 2004, polls showed that a slight majority believed that Bush was not honest and trustworthy. Still, Bush managed to best John Kerry in an election that was something of a referendum on Bush's first term. But that election came too early. Had it been held a year later--post-Katrina--any Dem would have thrashed Bush and Cheney at the polls. And now about seven out of ten disapprove of his presidency, and most of the public agrees with the premise that Bush deliberately misled American citizens about WMDs and the threat supposedly posed by Iraq. Bush is heading toward the door widely regarded as a failure: Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown. He has become the vanishing president. Hardly seen. Barely relevant.
Bush's style of politics, his policies, his political party--it's all been discredited. Whatever happens in the presidential race, the GOP is poised to take a beating in congressional races. He has led his party to ruin. The battle over the W. story has been won by his critics--at least in the short run. The view that Bush has been a dishonest president and bad for the United States has become the majority position in the United States. If John McCain somehow manages to win, it will be in spite of Bush.
Many presidents are elected as reactions to the previous president. George W. Bush's (faux) victory in 2000 was a reaction to the Bill Clinton soap opera. And a Barack Obama triumph would be the natural reaction to the W. years. Obama is the most progressive (or liberal) Democratic nominee since FDR ran for reelection. He is black (or biracial). He is an intellectual. He is no child of privilege. To sum up: he is the opposite of George W. Bush. Not only has Bush started two wars he couldn't finish, presided over a government that lost a major American city, and did little as a financial tsunami hit the nation; he has (I am guessing) created a yearning among many Americans for a non-Bush. And within the realm of conventional U.S. politics, Obama is about as non-Bush as it gets. No wonder Obama has a strong chance of becoming president. He spoke (endlessly) of change; he is an antidote to the Bush presidency.