Public Comment

Rahm Emanuel: Agent of Change?

By Kenneth Theisen
Thursday December 04, 2008 - 10:00:00 AM

Many believe that Obama will be the “savior” who will rescue us from the political direction begun by the Bush regime. But so far his choice of top staff does not indicate positive change. Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. 

Emanuel previously served in the White House from 1993 to 1998. He was Bill Clinton’s assistant for political affairs and then senior advisor for policy and strategy. He was instrumental in the passage of major pieces of legislation during the Clinton years. On behalf of Clinton he pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also helped pass “welfare reform” which destroyed the already frayed safety net for millions of children and families. Can we expect similar feats during the Obama years? 

Emanuel’s father was a member of Irgun, an Israeli terrorist group that operated in Palestine from 1931 to 1948. In 1948 Irgun massacred over one hundred Palestinian villagers in a despicable act of genocide in Deir Yassin. No one should be branded with the “sins of their father.” But Emanuel has continued his father’s ardent support of Israeli state terrorism. 

In June 2003, despite President Bush’s almost unconditional support of Israel, Emanuel signed a congressional letter criticizing Bush for being too weak in that support. The letter supported Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders, stating that the assassination policy “was clearly justified as an application of Israel’s right to self-defense.” 

In July 2006 after Israel invaded Lebanon, Emanuel again defended Israeli aggression. He demanded that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki not be allowed to deliver a speech to Congress because Maliki had branded Israel’s bombing of Lebanon as an act of aggression. On July 19th Emanuel made a speech supporting Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, despite the fact that the bombings had caused thousands of civilian casualties. Emanuel does not just confine his support of Israel to words. During the first Gulf War he joined the Israeli army. 

Emanuel has also been an ardent supporter of the current Iraq war. He supported the war resolution that authorized Bush to invade Iraq. When asked on “Meet the Press” whether he would have voted the same way “knowing that there are no weapons of mass destruction,” Emanuel answered affirmatively. He also voted to regularly fund the war and fought efforts to set a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops. 

In 2006, he wrote a book entitled The Plan: Big Ideas for America. In the book he wrote, “We need to fortify the military’s ‘thin green line’ around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and by expanding the U.S. army by 100,000 more troops.” (Obama has called for an increase of 92,000.) He also supported mandatory national service for everyone between the ages of 18 and 25. The book also called for the creation of a new domestic spying organization similar to England’s MI5. 

In 2005 Emanuel voted to make the Patriot Act permanent. This year he helped craft a compromise on FISA that allowed the continuation of massive spying on all Americans and others by U.S. spy agencies. Obama also supported the FISA legislation. 

In the lead-up to the 2006 Congressional elections, Emanuel was the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). He selected pro-war Democrat candidates and supported them in Democratic primary elections. Of the 22 candidates he selected, only one advocated immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq. (That candidate was from a very liberal district.) His DCCC denied funding and support to anti-war candidates. In a June 2006 congressional speech Emanuel pushed his pro-war agenda by stating, “The debate today is about whether the American people want to stay the course with an administration and a Congress that has walked away from its obligations or pursue a real strategy for success in the war on terror. … Democrats are determined to take the fight to the enemy.” 

Obama faces a massive financial crisis as incoming president. But do not worry, Emanuel has relevant experience. Clinton appointed Emanuel to a seat on the board of directors of the quasi-governmental Freddie Mac. Yes, one of the corporations that got the country into the financial crisis in the first place was directed by Emanuel. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight accused the board of Freddie Mac of having “failed in its duty to follow up on matters brought to its attention.” According to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Freddie Mac misreported profits by billions of dollars in order to deceive investors between the years 2000 and 2002. As a director, Emanuel was paid $31,060 in 2000 and $231,655 in 2001. 

Also during Emanuel’s tenure Freddie Mac was involved in a scandal regarding campaign contributions and accounting irregularities. In 2006, Freddie Mac was fined $3.8 million by the Federal Election Commission to settle claims that it illegally contributed to congressional candidates during the time when Emanuel was on the board and running for Congress. In his run for the House in 2002, Emanuel received $25,000 in campaign contributions from Freddie Mac. 

But we can be assured that Emanuel can deal with the financial industry just like the fox can guard the hen house. In the two-and-a-half years before he ran for Congress, Emanuel worked as an investment banker in Chicago earning more than $16 million. Evidently the financial industry loves him. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the 2008 election cycle, Emanuel was the House’s leading recipient of contributions “from hedge funds, private equity firms and the broader securities and investment industry.” 

Obama has chosen Emanuel to head up his White House operations. But the new chief of staff’s background hardly indicates that he will lead a charge for progressive changes. Instead the selection of Emanuel indicates continuing war and continuing financial ruin for the masses of people. 


Kenneth J. Theisen is an Oakland resident and steering committee member of the World Can’t Wait! Drive out the Bush regime!