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Sending A Message With Rahm And Summers

John Heilemann has an interesting piece this week about the calculus behind Obama's personnel decisions. He's high on Rahm and a potential Larry Summers appointment in particular, arguing that they send the right message to the country and to the various powers that be in Washington:

The easy, no-drama call for Obama would simply be to bypass Summers in favor of Geithner, a younger man and a fresher face and thus a more vibrant symbol of the change Obama has promised. But tapping Summers would have advantages—not despite but precisely because of the opposition he has stirred up. Obama never really had a Sister Souljah moment during his campaign, and staging one now might serve him well. Picking Summers would send a powerful message that Obama isn’t going to let himself be pushed around, as Clinton was, by the various factions on the left during his transition. That merit matters to him more than ideology or identity politics. ...

It would be foolish to deny that Emanuel is partisan, to be sure. But above all he is a bone-deep pragmatist—and also a Grade-A pain in the ass, a foulmouthed, ball-busting, pipe-hitting practitioner of realpolitik, the perfect bad cop to balance the soothing, above-the-fray posture that Obama hopes to strike. It would also be nuts to claim that the left has zero reason to distrust Emanuel, whose role in the Clinton administration (on crime, welfare, nafta, and much else) was as a kind of centrist enforcer. Indeed, several sources in the Obamasphere tell me Emanuel’s installment is meant to send a crystalline message to congressional liberals: that the president-elect has no intention of allowing them to set the agenda, let alone roll him as an earlier generation of Capitol Hill pooh-bahs did to Clinton in 1993 and 1994.

As Heilemann points out, the beauty of the way Obama got elected--that is, by circumventing the Democratic estabishment--is that it makes him much, much less beholden to the groups inclined to raise hell about people like Summers and Rahm.

P.S. Jonathan Cohn just raised an important point via e-mail: It's not just congressional liberals who'll be keen on rolling Obama. Far from it. No doubt he'll also get pressure from deficit-fetishists who want to rein in his domestic agenda. In fact, that's probably the bigger risk given the state of the economy. 

I'd say the Rahm pick signals that none of these groups are going to roll Obama, not just liberals.

--Noam Scheiber