Emanuel was supposed to be the experienced chief of staff to an inexperienced president, the Machiavellian operative aiding an idealistic leader, the wizened strategist protecting Obama from the usual mistakes of a new and callow chief executive. Among those mistakes: yielding too much authority to congressional leaders of your own party, who will tend to be partisan and interest-group-driven; surrounding the president with White House staff who quickly become smug, insular, and arrogant; and encouraging the president in his fantasy that he was elected because of his remarkable ability to sway the public, not because the party in the White House was unpopular and exhausted.
Emanuel failed to protect Obama from these temptations. He failed to check Pelosi and Reid. He failed to bring into the White House men and women of substance who could keep the president in touch with public opinion and objective realities. And how many times did Emanuel remind Obama that he, Obama, was no political genius, that he’d won the nomination despite losing most of the big primaries to Hillary Clinton, that he’d run behind congressional Democrats nationally, that his “mandate” had to be carefully nursed and broadened?
The answer is obvious. Emanuel reinforced rather than tempered Obama’s oversized self-confidence and self-referential arrogance. This is clear from the only memorable comment from Emanuel’s tenure, the one he made right after being selected: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” This may well go down in history as the most foolish and damaging pseudo-clever statement ever made by a chief of staff.