Belmont Club

Attack Speed, Rahmming Speed!

An article in the Telegraph reports that Rahm Emanuel intends to leave the White House within six to eight months in “frustration” over the inability of the WH to “bang heads together” to push policy through. The gist of the story is in the subhead: “Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, is expected to leave his job later this year after growing tired of the ‘idealism’ of Barack Obama’s inner circle.”  It is straightforward enough, but its plaintext meaning is so puzzling one suspects that like many recent signals from the executive branch, the real message is written in cipher.  But it is intentionally weakly enciphered because whoever leaked the story meant it to be decrypted.  So let’s try a few ciphertext substitutions and examine the possibilities.

Here’s the ciphertext. “Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, is expected to leave his job later this year after growing tired of the ‘idealism’ of Barack Obama’s inner circle.” Now consider the following substitutions.

Ciphertext Substitution 1 Substitution 2
“is expected to leave his job” “is planning to resign” “will be blamed”
after growing tired of the ‘idealism’ after discovering the incompetence after not being able to get along
Barack Obama’s inner circle Barack Obama the pollsters looking for a scapegoat

The key question to settle in choosing the right version is deciding who is ditching whom. Is Rahm Emanuel firing a shot across the president’s bow or is the president telling Rahm to get with the program? The internal evidence suggests that Rahm Emanuel is doing the warning because the far future date of his supposed departure would be unlikely if the message came from “Barack Obama” or “Barack Obama’s inner circle.” But there is enough ambiguity built into the message to allow for plausible deniability. Rahm is warning his boss as strongly as he possibly can without being overtly insubordinate.

The Telegraph has this cryptic elaboration on the main theme. It reads:

His abrasive style has rubbed some people the wrong way, while there has been frustration among Mr Obama’s closest advisers that he failed to deliver a smooth ride for the president’s legislative programme that his background promised.

“It might not be his fault, but the perception is there,” said the consultant, who asked not to be named. “Every vote has been tough, from health care to energy to financial reform.

“Democrats have not stood behind the president in the way Republicans did for George W Bush, and that was meant to be Rahm’s job.”

The sentences above sound like padding added by the writer from original research and followup calls. It sounds like people explaining why Emanuel might be fired or leave. But the next part of the article sounds like a pure cover story unlikely to have come from anyone except an actual source, probably Emanuel himself.

Mr Emanuel has reportedly told friends that his role as White House chief of staff was “only an eighteen month job” because of its intensity.

Regarded as the most demanding after president, it involves controlling the president’s agenda, enforcing White House message discipline as well as liaising with Congress.

His departure would regarded as another sign of how Mr Obama’s presidency has been far more troubled than expected.

Mr Emanuel has privately expressed a readiness to run for mayor of Chicago, which is also his home town though he was never part of the Obama set and did not endorse the then senator in the Democratic primary in 2008.

That would however depend on Mayor Richard Daley stepping down when he is up for re-election in 2011.

The chief obstacle to taking the White House job originally was doubts about moving his three children from Chicago. According to another former Clinton official, he has let friends know that he is “very sensitive to the idea that he is not a good father for having done this.”

This sounds like Rahm or his mouthpieces explaining his decision. Interestingly, one of those mouthpieces is “another former Clinton official,” which raises the question of whether anyone put Rahm up to it. The last part of the article reads like more padding, more background research from the journalist himself, added in to explain to British readers just who Rahm is.

One of Washington’s more colourful characters, Mr Emanuel is the son of Jewish immigrants and was an accomplished ballet dancer at school. He served as a civilian volunteer with the Israeli Defence Force in the 1991 Gulf War.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

So this is how the message might read. “Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, is threatening to leave his job later this year unless Barack Obama gets real. Rahm has made a lot of personal sacrifices to join the White House. He gave up being a congressman, Chicago deep dish pizza and being a father to his children for what? To be blamed as abrasive when the midterm disaster unfolds. No way he’s taking the fall for that. But just to show the boss he’s not scared, not a rat — not until the last moment anyway — he’ll stay until the midterm disaster makes it absolutely clear that all his warnings about futzing around have come true. And just in case you think Emanuel is yellow, remember that’s he willing to take on Richard Daley. And think on this. When all you inner circlers are walking the streets in DC rattling pencil cups and looking for a job, Rahm’s going to be mayor of the Windy City.”

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Chief of Staff

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