The ever-evolving picture of the new White House chief of staff is
getting more fascinating the more his friends, colleagues and sometimes
political foes reveal about his background and his personality.

This piece
captures quite a bit of it, and the headline alone explains his
appointment. President-elect Obama is known for cool, calculated
rhetoric. Emanuel is known for….”Rahm bombs”?

Emanuel’s flair for the well-timed verbal hand grenade —
or epithet or insult or, in one case, an actual dead fish — has grown
legendary during his 16-year career in politics. His explosive style,
and midnight work habits, have fueled a noisy migration up Pennsylvania
Avenue, from White House fixer under Bill Clinton to a House leadership
position on Capitol Hill…mixing one of Washington’s most combustible
temperaments with President-elect Barack Obama’s celebrated cool.

Somewhere I saw it referred to as the ‘good cop-bad cop’ routine. It
worked like a charm during Obama’s campaign, between him and his
campaign manager.

“He is that rare breed who can engage in a back-alley
fight but also understands that there’s a time to set aside
bare-knuckle fights and attempt to move an agenda,” said Rep. Adam
Putnam (R-Fla.), who has battled Emanuel in the House.

Remember when George H.W. Bush came into office and called for a
“kinder, gentler America”? If you were hoping for that in this
administration, Emanuel’s position as the White House traffic cop
quickly re-shapes that thinking.

But it’s Emanuel’s congressional Rolodex that may be
most of use to the Obama administration. With Joe Biden’s intimate lock
on Senate relations, Emanuel’s three terms in the House could prove
invaluable. Despite the egos he bruised along the way, Democrats hail
Emanuel as an electoral Moses. As chairman of the 2006 Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee, Emanuel delivered the party from 12
years in the minority wilderness.

But his accomplishment came at the cost of bitter feuds with party
Chairman Howard Dean, Congressional Black Caucus members and several
candidates he pushed off the ballot in favor of his favorite centrists.

Centrists? Here’s an interesting part of how he did that:

Many of the candidates Emanuel recruited are now members
of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog caucus, a group of Democrats
Obama will badly need for any of his pricier initiatives.

“These are folks that know that Rahm looked out for them both in the
campaign and in their first term in Congress,” said Amy Walter of the
Hotline political report.

The Blue Dogs were the conservatives who put Democrats over the top
in their ‘06 win of a narrow congressional majority. Their conservative
values was what won. Conservatives wondered how much they would be
heard (or heard from) once the Democratic controlled congress got down
to business. The answer turned out to be…no much. But then, that turned
out to be a do-nothing Congress in general.

Emanuel’s close work with the Blue Dogs is good to hear, and the
Americans with conservative values who elected them hope that
relationship continues.

Here’s how a former business associate describes working with Emanuel:

“He could go from the politics of the deal to the
economics of the deal to the corporate strategy of the deal, and he
just goes back and forth like quicksilver,” …

Hopefully, he’ll deal with Congress keeping a healthy respect for his Blue Dog recruits. Some worry Emanuel will give no ear to conservatives with pro-life views. But….it’s a new day. And anything can happen.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....