Monday, March 08, 2010

Obama's West Wing Infighting

President Obama's combative chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is allegedly the real life role model for the character of Josh Lyman, deputy chief of staff in the superlative 'West Wing' series. Like Lyman, Emanuel is congressional fixer and a man with one finger on the pulse of the Democratic Party. Unlike Lyman, however, Emanuel is a more earthy character, given to expletives, and now, apparently, a little at odds with the rest of the key West Wing team.

The Observer reports a growing controversy surrounding Emanuel's role, and cites some infuential reporting from the Washington Post. One of those reports, by Dana Milbank, defends Emanuel as the one man whose advice needs to be heeded rather more, as opposed to the other 'Obama loving' aides who are too awestruck by the president to be able to give him genuinely good counsel. This lead to suspicions that Emanuel might just be running his own press operation, instead of devoting himself completely to the president.

This may be just another Washington spat, but it is hardly good news for either Obama or Emanuel. The chief of staff is meant to be the ultimate manager and fixer, and certainly not someone who starts to become the story. In Britain, Alistair Campbell was doomed when he started to be the story instead of managing it. Emanuel is in danger of landing in the same boat. As for Obama, the story represents another post in his difficult presidency. The man with one of the boldest legislative plans in recent times continues to face problems over his agenda. Last week, the federal budget was suspended while a lone Republican senator held it up on the floor of the senate, thus preventing any federal payments being made at all. Last Wednesday, meanwhile, the president made it clear he now wants a simple majority vote on the healthcare plan.

Obama's election in 2008 was undoubtedly historic. His term of office has already shaped up to be one of the more controversial in recent American history, and the last thing he needs is for attention to be diverted to the group of key advisers who are shaping both his policy and his message. 'No drama' Obama is still maintaining his cool, but he has no intention of standing by to see his cherished domestic programme railroaded.

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