As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Being Right Is No Excuse For Being Right

Many have already said what needed to be said about Ryan Lizza's fawning profile of Rahm Emanuel, which I think was actually written by someone named "Rahm Emanuel," such is the uncritical glory. Glenn Greenwald offers the best and most thorough takedown of Lizza's article and the clear flattery-for-access exchange not unlike a People Magazine celebrity piece, although I would add Spencer Ackerman's personal Lizza experience as some context for the kind of person we're dealing with:

Remember that obnoxious intern in Shattered Glass who constantly pokes his nose into other people's business because he's desperate to be put on? That's based on Ryan. His specialty was always in schmoozing -- meeting powerful people, ingratiating himself to powerful people, trying to get something out of powerful people. He was the first person I ever met who showed off his BlackBerry. But I never had a problem with Ryan [...]

So one day I was commiserating with Ryan [...] In a moment of blowing off steam, I said to Ryan that maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if I got fired for TNR for being too left-wing. There were probably some editors who'd come to my aid if that happened, since people in The Game know what TNR is really like.

I thought nothing of it. Again, that kind of venting isn't unusual for TNR, and I heard other writers say much worse things about the place over the years. But a couple weeks later Frank asked me to have lunch with him. Great! I thought. Finally an audience with my friend-turned-editor, who seems not to have time for me anymore. We went to the sushi place on New York Avenue and 11th.

"Listen," Frank said, "I know you've been telling people that you welcome getting fired. I want to tell you how unprofessional and immature that is."

Stunning. Lizza had run to our boss and told him something I had said as a way of calming myself down. Now, here it was, ripped from context, and made into a problem between me and my editor. It was the first salvo of much fake outrage from Frank over the coming months. When I grumbled that I knew who snitched on me, Frank -- realizing he had fucked up -- urged me to let it go [...]

What I learned from this is something every journalist, every editor, every potential source and every reader should know: Ryan Lizza is not to be trusted. He will betray you, and betray you casually. Whatever helps Lizza get what he want, Lizza will do. It doesn't matter if you and he have a warm relationship. He only -- only -- cares about himself. So congratulations, Ryan! You got what you wanted. You're the New Yorker's Washington correspondent. I hope it's worth it to you to have that job, since the path that you took to get it was to become a sniveling, obsequious, deceitful coward. Or maybe that's what you've always been, and always will be.

This puts Lizza's upcoming book about the Obama Administration and the presumed softballing-for-access in its proper context.

But I want to actually focus on something inside the profile, when Emanuel attempts to rebut his critics on the left:

“They have never worked the legislative process,” Emanuel said of critics like the Times columnist Paul Krugman, who argued that Obama’s concessions to Senate Republicans—in particular, the tax cuts, which will do little to stimulate the economy—produced a package that wasn’t large enough to respond to the magnitude of the recession. “How many bills has he passed?” [...]

Now, my view is that Krugman as an economist is not wrong. But in the art of the possible, of the deal, he is wrong. He couldn’t get his legislation.”

The stimulus bill was essentially held hostage to the whims of Collins, Snowe, and Specter, but if Al Franken, the apparent winner of the disputed Minnesota Senate race, had been seated in Washington, and if Ted Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, had been regularly available to vote, the White House would have needed only one Republican to pass the measure. “No disrespect to Paul Krugman,” Emanuel went on, “but has he figured out how to seat the Minnesota senator?” (Franken’s victory is the subject of an ongoing court challenge by his opponent, Norm Coleman, which the national Republican Party has been happy to help finance.) “Write a fucking column on how to seat the son of a bitch. I would be fascinated with that column. O.K.?” Emanuel stood up theatrically and gestured toward his seat with open palms. “Anytime they want, they can have it,” he said of those who are critical of his legislative strategies. “I give them my chair.”

Given the limits of making the Senate filibuster and Republican obstructionism generally, Emanuel may be right on the Franken point (though there's obviously a rhetorical role the White House can play in highlighting the absurdity, one they aren't playing at all). But I can't tell you how many times I've heard this kind of criticism here in California from people within the Democratic Party, that us librul ranters don't know what it means to craft policy or how to execute the art of the deal. It's the default position for those in power, to trade of their experience - and actually, the secrecy of the process - to dismiss their critics.

But Emanuel gives up a powerful point in the middle of that. As I boldfaced, he actually admits that the stimulus package wasn't big enough. That's a pretty massive point, considering that the fate of economic recovery in no small part depends on fiscal spending that meets the task. While Emanuel claims that the Administration got 90% of what they wanted, they also didn't get a package that will fit the bill. That's what Paul Krugman is getting at in his response:

Eh. The question is why Obama didn't ask for what the economy needed, then bargain from there. My view is that Collins et al would have demanded $100 billion in cuts from whatever they started from; and that's not the case he answers.

Now, all of this is conjecture, and it's entirely possible that Collins and Nelson would have driven down the cost to essentially the $800 billion where it ended. But the pre-compromised position of the bill ENSURED that it would not be enough.

And this is not the first time that Emanuel has intimated that the stimulus was insufficient. Last week he said "We clearly thought that economic activity needed more, but it was more important to get it done than argue about just that."

Ultimately it may be positive that Emanuel knows what he has done isn't sufficient; maybe it will allow him to return for more if that comes to pass. But it's a pretty interesting move to admit inadequacy and then blame the very people who were saying all along that the bill was inadequate for "not being realistic." That's some up-is-downism right there. And if the ones who are so uninformed about the political process are also admittedly the ones who were RIGHT, would it kill those august dealmakers to, I don't know, learn something from that, and maybe not negotiate with themselves anymore?

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