Every President needs as asshole, and Rahm Emanuel is going to be Barack Obama’s. That’s a good thing; Obama is going to have some time of it trying to implement his post Keynesian stimulus plan, but the Emanuel appointment as chief of staff just increased the chances that Obama’s first 100 days could more closely resemble FDR than Bill Clinton.
The Emanuel appointment also means Obama intends to follow the path of doing what’s right rather than what is merely popular. Rahm will help steer through the flak, which is where Rahm shines, steering through the flak and getting the job done. Rahm may not be on message in terms of a progressive agenda (he certainly wasn’t during the 90’s and his choices in lining up congressional candidates for the 06 election bypassed many a good progressive candidate– but the dems took control in 06, in no small part because of Emanuel’s keen tactical sensibilities), but as chief of staff he needn’t be.
The President’s chief of staff need be a tactical magician, which he is, and with sharp elbows, which he has. As long as the President isn’t brain dead (think George Bush), the chief of staff job description is to take the President’s message and implement it (it isn’t to make policy, which is Barack’s job); to wheel and deal and maneuver policy entrepreneurs in Congress and the huge number of executive branch bureaucrats to make sure that the president sees his policy objectives realized. Nobody does this better than Rahm Emmanuel.
Lawrence Summers at Treasury is another story. Like Emanuel, Summers is an asshole and one who enjoys his own publicity and his own drama; At this moment, the president elect needs a consummate administrator whose mission is all about policy and has nothing to do with personal drama or ambition. At Harvard, Summers went out of his way to antagonize his faculty and alienate his staff. Such “drama would pointlessly stymie some of the most important economic initiatives this country has seen in a couple generations.
In addition, Summers expertise and his claim to fame as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary had everything to do with the sort of economic deregulation that led to the current crisis. It makes little sense to bring Summers back in; His ambition would be in the game; but his professional training and ideological commitment would be an anathama to the job at hand.