Defusing the Rahm Bomb

Rahm Emanuel is on a charm offensive.

Does that mean for the White House staff chieftain no more steak knives driven into the table, accompanied by a profanity-laced determination to send political opponents to the nether reaches of Hell?

Yes, sir, as the New York Times assured us last Sunday, “It is clear to friends and colleagues that Mr. Emanuel is trying to rein himself in, lower his voice, even cut down on his use of profanity.” The congressman-turned-presidential staff chief, the Old Gray Lady noted approvingly, is trying hard to adjust to “the cool, collegial and deliberate culture of Obama World.”

So maybe the time Rodney King was hoping for has arrived at last. Maybe now we all can just get along.

Witness The New Rahm in action. Obama at a meeting earlier in January with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others complained to Emanuel about his tendency to loudly crack his knuckles. “At which point,” The Times reported, “Mr. Emanuel held the offending knuckle up to Mr. Obama’s left ear and, like an annoying little brother, snapped off a few special cracks.”

Now all questions aside about the propriety of doing that to anyone, much less the President of the United States, can you imagine Dick Cheney or Karl Rove doing that to former President Bush? What do you think Bush’s reaction would have been? I, for one, wouldn’t rule out him decking the offending party.

Obama’s reaction was not reported, but I’m sure it was in keeping with “the cool, collegial and deliberate culture of Obama World.” “No Drama Obama” remember?

Not to in any way underrate Emanuel’s contributions to the new administration. He’s smart, savvy and relentless, a good combination in Powertown USA. As Time magazine noted in an approving profile last week, “Obama insiders credit the new chief of staff for many of the transition team’s more agile moves.”

Given Obama’s high approval ratings and even the comfort many on the Right have with some of his Cabinet choices and policy pronouncements to date, those moves have been agile indeed.

Emanuel, with his Clinton Administration and Capitol Hill experience, can be expected, too, to give wise counsel to the new president on how to steer his legislative agenda. But Rahm making nice? That seems a little hard to swallow.

Again to quote Time, “While Republicans greeted the news that Emanuel would take the White House helm with some trepidation, he has since surprised many of the worried by courting them.” This includes handing out his personal cell phone number to GOP senators who want to be his pal.

Then there’s Sarah Boesveld who said of Emanuel last week in the Toronto Globe and Mail, “Call him Rahmbo-licious. … Rahm Emanuel may be the new (unofficial) sex symbol of the Obama administration.” Her musings were triggered by a vote on the New York blogsite Gawker naming Emanuel “Your New Obama Hottie.” We hope to be spared the almost inevitable follow-up question — boxers or briefs?

The only possible bump on the charm-paved Rahm Road is the ongoing investigation and prosecution of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich for putting Obama’s vacant Senate seat up for the highest bidder. Emanuel has acknowledged conversations with Blagojevich, but the media seems remarkably uninterested in the contents of those wiretapped discussions, willing, it seems, to take the Obama White House’s assurances that all is well. Bush should have been so lucky.

But when the man himself was asked a couple Sundays ago on “Meet the Press” about his reputation, he cited his recent role in the successful bipartisan effort to release the rest of the $700 billion bailout package. “I’ve matured,” Emanuel told host David Gregory. “I helped, as [Obama’s] chief of staff, get that legislation, and also, most importantly, helped change the tone in which we had a policy debate. … You’ll be the judge if I continue to be a better person than I was 20 years ago.”

Stay tuned for the next episode of cool and collegial Obama World.