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A Rahm Appreciation (Updated)

Progressives convinced that the Obama Administration is too quick to compromise and too slow to confront Republicans like to blame Rahm Emanuel, in no small part because Emanuel so obviously disdains the left. 

Tim Fernholz of the American Prospect has a different view. The real problem, he says, is up the chain of command:

Emanuel's most significant contribution to the Democratic Party as a staffer, legislator, and operative wasn't his pragmatism but his will to win and his organizational capacity. Some forget it now, but after years of stereotypical Democratic fecklessness, Emanuel brought a ruthless, programmatic partisanship to Democratic politics that, early in his tenure as DCCC chair, even won him begrudging respect among the netroots. He's the only Democratic operative -- aside, perhaps from Michael Whouley -- who has ever made Republicans nervous.
The promise and tragedy of Emanuel's electoral coalition were clear last week, when Democrats announced they would not vote to extend broad-based tax cuts while moderately increasing taxes on the wealthy. It's a popular policy, and many liberals saw the vote as an opportunity go on the offensive, but skittish members facing tough elections panicked as Republicans promised to attack them as tax raisers. It was the kind of collective flop that characterized the pre-2005 Democratic Party. Maybe that's simply because there aren't enough real progressives in office, but even California's Barbara Boxer demurred on the vote.
Emanuel was never, according to a source familiar with his thinking, able to convince the president to be a party leader as well as an officeholder, someone who had to be a partisan and a pragmatist at the same time; the frustration, shared with the left, is part of the reason he may leave early. The president's post-partisan emphasis hurt his clout and that of his staffers, so there's no one to play "Rahmbo," to knock heads together and get Democrats on the same page. It's doubtful that Emanuel's successors will be more effective until Obama decides he's a politician as well as a president. While progressives may not miss his policy advice, we'll come to miss Rahm's politics.

Update: Ezra Klein reminds us that the Obama Administration has accomplished an awful lot in the last two years and that Rahm Emanuel was a very big part of that.