That President-elect Obama made his first important appointment a hard-nosed former Clintonista insider from Chicago famed for his salty language and sharp partisan elbows has voices left and right highly-pitched in protest.
"Foul," cry progressive bloggers who convinced themselves that Obama would undertake a vast progressive agenda and see Rahm Emanuel's centrist Democratic past as an impediment to the big leftward swing and his insider status as an abandonment of the big "change" meme. "Hypocrite," screeched right-wingers attempting to throw Obama's healing message of bipartisanship back in his face by referring to Emanuel's taste for political warfare.
Both complaints miss the point.
For one, Obama does not come to the Presidency borne upon a platform of greater liberalism; he's a fairly conventional center-left politician in terms of policy. He rises on a rare combination of temperament and talent and judgment, not ideology. Many liberals admired the former and somehow intuited the latter, based upon nothing but their own hopes and dreams. Obama is a progressive, but he lives around the center. His choice of Rahmbo as chief of staff is clearly aimed not at Emanuel's own centrist political ideals, but at his ability to get things done.
And that means getting things done on Capitol Hill - and not by changing the minds of Republicans, but by keeping Democrats in line. Rahm Emanuel's job is not to turn red state reps blue, but to whip the Democrats into a tightly-disciplined tool of Obama's center-left policy. To put it bluntly, his job is put some spine in Reid and Pelosi on President Obama's behalf - and to punish Democrats who wander from the Obama reservation. Let's be honest: this Democratic congress has not distinguished itself and seems to lack any sort of rudder in the economic storm.
Finally, Emanuel's personal ideas about policy don't necessarily matter: his job is to execute Obama's agenda, period. His insider knowledge is incredibly helpful; he knows how to run the Hill. That he gave up a run at the Speaker's chair to do so reveals just how important he believes the start of the Obama Administration really is.
Presidents get a few months to own a big agenda and push through the large domestic initiatives. Obama has ticketed (publicly) a short list of those priorities: health care reform, green economy development, tax reform, and economic stimulus. If he gets all four, that's change right there. Big change.
If Rahm Emanuel has to break a few congressional heads to get it done on behalf of President Obama, well - that's the Chicago way.
And I'm all for it.