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June 7, 2009

Inside Out and Upside Down

NYT Mag Rahm Obama.jpg

I didn’t like it before (in my “day one” post on the new administration) and I don’t like the picture now.

First, with America’s health care system on the operating table and the policy issues so complex, why such fixation on the politics?

Second, if this cover/cover story must necessarily concentrate on “the sell,” why the focus on Rahm’s hardball nature; the headline’s intimation of exclusion; and the grainy surveillance-like capture of a whisper session? As a visual narrative, you could say this cover (at least, its photo-illustration on the web, since I haven’t seen the print version) is playing “the Chicago card.”

At the beginning of Matt Bai’s article, there is the suggestion that Obama and Rahm are outsmarting Congress by giving everyone a voice, then letting House and Senate bloody each other into producing a viable piece of legislation. But then, who’s “getting worked” if Obama is simply, if elegantly encouraging participatory government? You can see this more idealistic approach in paragraph after paragraph, Bai’s descriptions detailing how Obama is pursuing with Congress a more inclusive, more relationship-driven and less deterministic approach to the health care issue.

Some snips:

Emanuel meant that previous White House teams tended to focus almost entirely on the handful of leaders of each caucus rather than on building relationships with individual members. “I mean, if I think of one thing that we did that was a mistake under President Clinton,” he said, “it was that early on it was just too driven through a couple of committee chairmen.”

As Obama mulled whether to nominate Sonia Sotomayor or some other jurist to the Supreme Court last month, he called every member of the Judiciary Committee personally, taking the “advise” part of “advise and consent” to a level that impressed some longtime senators.

If Obama is going to sign a transformative health care law this year, it will, at some point soon, have to become his plan, no matter how much autonomy he wants to confer on his allies in Congress.

On health care, Daschle said, “I’ve told the president there will come a time when I think it’s going to be very important for him to take control of the process or at least to insert himself and be a major player.”

The NYT Mag does a nice job with many of the inside photos — several being White House shots showing Obama and Emanuel not-so-surreptitiously jawboning with Congressional leaders. But to describe Obama’s approach as a “Congressional presidency,” while suggesting something more covert, manipulative and exclusionary with this cover just doesn’t add up.

Taking The Hill (NYT Mag)

(image: Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

  • elfpix

    Is it really editorial commentary or just editorial lazyness, didn’t want to pay for a decent search of the files, inadequate keywording at AP.
    Are there any such photos of George and Dick?

  • elfpix

    Or did Dick just decide everything and tell George’s speech writer what to say.

  • PMMJ

    I can’t be the only former English major getting an Othello vibe off of that pic, either.

  • elfpix

    Maybe. But I think we know who’s in charge here.

  • ids

    Why the fixation on politics? The reason both O and Emmanuel are where they are is their ability to raise campaign funds for themselves and others. Their fixation is politics, not substance. The key quote:
    As Emanuel likes to tell his West Wing staff: “The only nonnegotiable principle here is success. Everything else is negotiable.” They have no principles.
    I don’t see the “Chicago Card” here. Maybe the Illinois card, where the Ill Gov and the two overwheling majorities in both houses can’t pass a bill without bowing to Repub wishes. If by Chicago Card it’s about rewarding the Corp’s driving the politics, I can see that.
    The grainy two merging into nothingness picture of O and Emmanuel highlights this quote from the article:
    “What makes Obama different is that his own ideological loyalties remain, as they have from the beginning of his presidential campaign, more opaque.” He is nothing but a political animal in a nation whose election laws can’t stand up to basic principles of reliability.
    And this quote shows Rahm is ready to be dismissed at any time, and the sooner the better:
    When I asked Emanuel if he would prefer that the president have someone around while negotiating with individual lawmakers, he smiled tightly. “I prefer whatever he prefers,” the chief of staff said, sounding uncharacteristically diplomatic.

  • yg

    one of the canards of antisemitism argues that jews are the secret force behind power, that they are conspiratorial. this kind of image just feeds into that kind of twisted thinking. it’s disturbing that the nyt would sanction setting up that suggestion.

  • thebewilderness

    Is it me or is it getting very sinister and film noir out in journamalism land.

  • ids

    Most despised by prisoners in Nazi death camps were the collaborators who whisper into his master’s ear what other prisoner to beat next.

  • Victoria

    On first view, it made me wonder about the central premise of the article. After reading the article, I just thought it was a really dumb, bad, non-illustrative choice. And yes, misleading. A more meaningful cover image might have been many, many smaller blocks of various players in conversation. Or a clock round of myriad connections. Similarly, I thought the mentions of Rahm’s swearing and outbreaks was not particularly interesting and very old news. Since we all have heard the stories about Rahm and the f-word, a more interesting thing to know is how people feel about him. After all, he wanted to be Speaker; you don’t get there by alienating people. There’s ugly swearing/yelling and there’s funny/acceptable swearing/yelling. Swearing alone ain’t much of a story point.

  • Bugboy

    I don’t know why you don’t like this picture, I think it’s one of the most powerful of this administration. Rahm is obviously no-nonsense in advising the President here (although this pic is pre-election, I believe) and the President is bending his head to receive the advice. I see a functioning political machine in action here.
    You either trust them or you don’t. Is that what this is about?

  • mactrk

    Maybe I’m just being unduly affected by all the hate talk going on, but this seems like the poster for the white supremacists . It seems they hate Jews even more than they hate blacks. So I guess my question would be whether this “choice” was subliminal or lazy.

  • spriche

    Just another example of the white racist media’s campaign to smear, diminish, and destroy Obama’s popularity. Obama will save this country from it’s wretched capitalist past of greed, avarice, and unfairness if given a fair chance. The unrelenting attacks by the media on Obama stands in stark contrast to their fawning adoration of the neo-con Bush/Chenny administration. There has to be some way to mandate fairness in media coverage by law. Unless fairness is legislated, the media will continue to drag public opinion back to the failed policies of the past. The poor will continue to suffer as they have since this country’s founding. Obama will be unable to institute hope and change unless the media is changed. Outmoded notions of “freedom of the press” did not anticipate the bias and corruption of what is modern media. At any rate, everyone knows the constitution is a living document and under the emergency conditions we endure now, with the economy and all, it is time to set aside “freedom of the press” under the penumbra. The penumbra supersedes the constitution.

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