Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I'm from Chicago. This is how we get things done. And we don't need no stink'in help from youse.
The Chamber of Commerce is only the latest target of the Chicago Gang in the White House.
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.
When Barack Obama promised to deliver "a new kind of politics" to Washington, most folk didn't picture Rahm Emanuel with a baseball bat. These days, the capital would make David Mamet, who wrote Malone's memorable movie dialogue, proud.
A White House set on kneecapping its opponents isn't, of course, entirely new. (See: Nixon) What is a little novel is the public and bare-knuckle way in which the Obama team is waging these campaigns against the other side.
In recent weeks the Windy City gang added a new name to their list of societal offenders: the Chamber of Commerce. For the cheek of disagreeing with Democrats on climate and financial regulation, it was reported the Oval Office will neuter the business lobby. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett slammed the outfit as "old school," and warned CEOs they'd be wise to seek better protection.
That was after the president accused the business lobby of false advertising. And that recent black eye for the Chamber (when several companies, all with Democratic ties, quit in a huff)—think that happened on its own? ("Somebody messes with me, I'm gonna mess with him! Somebody steals from me, I'm gonna say you stole. Not talk to him for spitting on the sidewalk. Understand!?")
The Chamber can at least take comfort in crowds. Who isn't on the business end of the White House's sawed-off shotgun? First up were Chrysler bondholders who—upon balking at a White House deal that rewarded only unions—were privately threatened and then publicly excoriated by the president.
Next, every pharmaceutical, hospital and insurance executive in the nation was held out as a prime obstacle to health-care nirvana. And that was their reward for cooperating. When Humana warned customers about cuts to Medicare under "reform," the White House didn't bother to complain. They went straight for the gag order. When the insurance industry criticized the Baucus health bill, the response was this week's bill to strip them of their federal antitrust immunity. ("I want you to find this nancy-boy . . . I want him dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground!")
This summer Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl criticized stimulus dollars. Obama cabinet secretaries sent letters to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. One read: "if you prefer to forfeit the money we are making available to the state, as Senator Kyl suggests," let us know. The Arizona Republic wrote: "Let's not mince words here: The White House is intent on shutting Kyl up . . . using whatever means necessary." When Sens. Robert Bennett and Lamar Alexander took issue with the administration's czars, the White House singled them out, by name, on its blog. Sen. Alexander was annoyed enough to take to the floor this week to warn the White House off an "enemies list."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor? Targeted for the sin of being a up-and-coming conservative voice. Though even Mr. Cantor was shoved aside in August so the Chicago gang could target at least seven Democratic senators, via the president's campaign arm, Organizing for America, for not doing more on health care. ("What I'm saying is: What are you prepared to do??!!")
And don't forget Fox News Channel ("nothing but a lot of talk and a badge!"). Fox, like MSNBC, has its share of commentators. But according to Obama Communications Director Anita Dunn, the entire network is "opinion journalism masquerading as news." Many previous White House press officers, when faced with criticism, try this thing called outreach. The Chicago crowd has boycotted Fox altogether.
What makes these efforts notable is that they are not the lashing out of a frustrated political operation. They are calculated campaigns, designed to create bogeymen, to divide the opposition, to frighten players into compliance. The White House sees a once-in-a-generation opportunity on health care and climate. It is obsessed with winning these near-term battles, and will take no prisoners. It knows that CEOs are easily intimidated and (Fox News ratings aside) it is getting some of its way. Besides, roughing up conservatives gives the liberal blogosphere something to write about besides Guantanamo.
The Oval Office might be more concerned with the long term. It is 10 months in; more than three long years to go. The strategy to play dirty now and triangulate later is risky. One day, say when immigration reform comes due, the Chamber might come in handy. That is if the Chamber isn't too far gone.
White House targets also aren't dopes. The corporate community is realizing that playing nice doesn't guarantee safety. The health executives signed up for reform, only to remain the president's political piñatas. It surely grates that the unions—now running their own ads against ObamaCare—haven't been targeted. If the choice is cooperate and get nailed, or oppose and possibly win, some might take that bet.
There's also the little fact that many Americans voted for this president in thrall to his vow to bring the country together. It's hard to do that amid gunfire, and voters might just notice.
("I do not approve of your methods! Yeah, well . . . You're not from Chicago.")