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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)

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