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The White House Theory Of Asset Deployment

When I first read this paragraph in Matt Bai's piece about White House legislative strategy, I thought Rahm was talking out of school:

The second tenet of Emanuel’s theory is that the White House itself comes with strategic assets you can put to good use, if you allocate them properly. There’s the White House theater, where guests can watch movies and sporting events; formal state dinners; smaller gatherings in the first family’s residence, which spouses can join; tickets to the Easter-egg roll for kids; tickets to the White House tours that members like to give out to their constituents. These prizes are not handed out randomly or, as in the Bush White House, doled out mostly as rewards to allies who’ve demonstrated the requisite loyalty. Rather, in Obama’s nascent administration, they are considered carefully and accounted for obsessively. Emanuel holds a daily legislative meeting at which aides discuss the status of pending legislation, and often they go over the distribution of White House assets during those sessions. “We have a tracking system,” Emanuel told me. “Who came to watch the football game? Who came to watch the basketball game?”

It didn't seem like you'd want members of Congress to know you viewed these assets quite so crassly--it might alienate them and prove counterproductive. But the more I thought about it, the more Rahm's discussion of the tracking system seemed pretty smart. Everyone knows why members of Congress get invited to the White House. Letting them know you keep track of the visits eliminates any ambiguity and makes it impossible to pretend they don't owe you anything in return. 

In a nutshell, transactions are most efficient when they're properly accounted for. (Think of the difference between borrowing money from a friend and borrowing money from a bank--or a mafioso. Which are you more likely to pay back?) As long as the relationship is pretty obviously transactional, you might as well make it explicit.

--Noam Scheiber