It’s no coincidence that former President Barack Obama dropped the first volume of his (third) memoir at the perfect thematic moment, just as the country is transitioning to his former vice president’s incoming administration. The transition is the time when all is still possible, when we consider the possibilities the new administration holds, and think through the previous presidencies for lessons on what mistakes not to make this next time around.
As to the possibilities, that’s the topic of this week’s podcast, and it’s supposed to be both realistic and uplifting, and I found the conversations with David Dayen, my old colleague now at The American Prospect; Demond Drummer, head of New Consensus; and Bob Hockett, a fellow at New Consensus, to be fascinating. (If you like it, please review it on whatever podcast platform you use, it helps it rise in the algorithmic rankings. The podcast is embedded here, or you can find it free on any of the podcast platforms; just search for Deconstructed.)
It’s fitting that Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has emerged as a central character of the recent news cycle, given that Rahm was so central to his first two years as president. Rahm also represents the confusion at the root of Obama’s early approach to politics: Obama positioned himself as a healer of the nation’s wounds, a man whose story, background, and calm, reasoned demeanor would break through the constraints of the old, tired, partisan way of doing politics. He then picked as his chief of staff the most sharp-edged partisan warrior he could find; there was little chance congressional Republicans would be cooperating with him at all, but if there was (and I don’t think there was), it certainly ended there. And Emanuel spent his two years with Obama warning him of the risks of going big on this or that issue. His tenure as mayor of Chicago was controversial, ending with -- and ended by -- his office’s role in the cover up of the murder of Laquan McDonald.
Emanuel, I scooped this week, is now gunning for Transportation Secretary. As mayor, he had broadly mainline Democratic views on transportation issues -- supporting bike lanes, high speed rail, public transit -- but his involvement in the city’s privatizing its parking meters is a bit of a red flag.
Rahm and Joe Biden, it turns out, go way back. To flesh out their relationship, I dug through Rahm’s old memos in the Clinton library, and turned up a fun one where he tells Clinton that Biden had gotten his “feathers ruffled” -- the identity of the feather-ruffler is presumably the memo’s author -- and could use a soothing call from the president that weekend.
In Obama’s memoir, he also confirmed for the first time that Rahm had given him the idea to promise Larry Summers the Fed chairmanship if he would agree to become an economic adviser in the White House, though not get the treasury secretary role. That deal was never made good on, and I have the backstory on why.
This coming Thanksgiving will be among the saddest in memory -- we’ll either miss out on seeing loved ones, or wonder whether we’ve put them and others at risk by seeing them -- but it’s important not to forget the spirit of the holiday. And with that in mind, let me say I’m thankful that you remain dedicated readers of this newsletter, and I’m grateful for the many of you who find this email worth paying for even though it’s almost entirely free; it helps keep me going when it all seems pointless. And most importantly I’m thankful for the many times I’ve been saved from embarrassing errors by this newsletter’s editor, Aunt Mimi, who I’ll be sad to miss this Turkey Day for the first time in many years. (She did not edit this last paragraph. Any errors are 100% mine.)