Prior reports have told us that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was less than enthusiastic about Obama's decision to essentially stake his first term on an ambitious effort to comprehensively reform the nation's health-care system. Today, Greg Sargent gives us some more detail, from Jonathan Alter's upcoming book:
The book, Jonathan Alter's The Promise, goes much further than previous accounts in documenting just how opposed Rahm was to proceeding with ambitious reform -- something that was widely suspected at the time but never proven in detail. Excerpts of the book were made available in advance of its release next Tuesday.
"I begged him not to do this," Rahm admits to Alter. But according to the book, Obama overrode Rahm's advice, privately taking a bit of shot at Clinton by telling advisers that he hadn't been sent to the White House to do "school uniforms."
After Obama had made his decision, Rahm threw himself into getting the President's plan passed and worked almost nonstop on it, the book reports. It also goes into more detail than previously known about the dramatically scaled down health reform plan Rahm urged Obama to pursue instead -- something advisers derisively called "the Titanic plan" because it insured women and children first.
What's important here isn't that Emanuel was wrong, although in this case he turned out to be. We should remember just how unlikely that victory seemed. Emanuel is acknowledged by everyone to be an extremely smart and skilled operative, a veteran of two White Houses and the guy who engineered the Democrats' dramatic takeover of Congress in 2006. It's fair to say he always wanted the Obama presidency to be as transformative and successful as possible. Yet faced with the health-care battle, his assessment was that it couldn't be done.
Fortunately, other people -- Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and most importantly Barack Obama -- thought otherwise. But it just goes to show that when somebody tells you, "Because of my experience and knowledge about politics, I can tell you what will happen and what won't," you probably shouldn't believe them.
-- Paul Waldman