Monday, June 09, 2008

Senator Rahmbo?
This is really getting ahead of ourselves, but here's an interesting note on Political Wire this morning:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "is reported to be privately talking about Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, as the next senator from Illinois if Sen. Barack Obama wins the presidential election," according to Robert Novak.

I sort of like Emanuel--you never doubt that he cares, for thing--but I'm not sure this is a very good idea. Up until sometime in the '90s, the Senate was famously the "saucer" into which political passions, at full boil in the House of Representatives, were poured to cool them. But in the previous decade, a handful of high-profile House members moved to the Upper Chamber, and took their boisterous, confrontational, nastily partisan political practices with them: Rick Santorum among the Republicans and Chuck Schumer of the Democrats, to name just two. As a result, we've seen the Senate come more closely to resemble the House in rancor and hostility--but the minority in the Senate has far more tools at its disposal to vent its fury, from the hold to the procedural filibuster. The result is that legislation isn't so much "cooled," to use the Washington/Jefferson metaphor from the link above, as totally frozen.

At the risk of screwing up my own metaphor here by my ignorance of chemistry, it seems to me that introducing Rahm Emanuel into that Senate would be like eyedropping nitroglycerin into the saucer. This guy is the ultimate Democratic partisan, a potential Tom DeLay of the notionally progressive. Certainly there have been moments when I've said to myself--or bellowed in a room of sympathetic listeners--that the Republicans "can go fuck themselves." But that's not how the Senate is supposed to work--and if there's anyone in the Democratic caucus for whom principle seems to be a burden rather than a support, it's Rahmbo.

Emanuel had witnessed this struggle in Illinois, too: it was the party regulars versus the goo-goos. Emanuel, the Daley protégé, is a regular who believes money and a disciplined organization win elections. He seemed to see Dean as a goo-goo, a good-government reformer with a base of liberal idealists who are more educated and individualistic than your average Democratic machine foot soldier, but less reliable when you need someone to hand out palm cards on Election Day. The machine has been paving over goo-goos since the 19th century. As a beery alderman once put it, "Chicago ain't ready for reform."

Probably any successful political party, or even a movement within a party, needs both Emanuels and Obamas--bad cops and good cops, if you like. And I guess an argument could be made that Senate Democrats could use a little more spine. (Or a lot.) But I can't shake the sense that if you put a guy like that into the Senate, ultimately you lose more than you gain, and the politics of the country becomes that much more toxic.

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