Political Myth Making
You know all those stories you’ve been reading about how Nancy Pelosi rallied the troops through her iron-fisted leadership? And how Rahm Emanuel was ready to trade it all for a bag of magic beans? Jonathan Bernstein says we shouldn’t take those as gospel.
Politicians…brace yourself…don’t always tell the truth! They try to make themselves look good!
When you read these stories, then, think about who is talking to reporters, and what they want reporters to hear. No Member of Congress wants to admit that his or her vote was only available to the Speaker if she needed it. Yet, it is very likely that in fact a whole lot of Democratic Members of Congress preferred, as some of us have been saying for months, for the bill to pass without their votes (I’m remembering a nice Karen Tumulty post, which I mention just to point out that working reporters know this stuff just as well as more distant observers. At least the good ones do). Most of what happened in the last week or two wasn’t about Members carefully studying the bill to decide if they thought it was a good idea or not, whatever they say now; it was about making a political decision, and about (for Pelosi and Obama) coordinating those decisions. Oh, and all those stories about how everyone’s a hero but Rahm Emanuel? Maybe they’re true…but it’s also the case that the White House staff, and especially the Chief of Staff, are really convenient scapegoats. Their job is to make the politicians look good — so when you read a story about Rahm Emanuel that makes a politician look good, well, maybe it’s true, or maybe he’s just very good at his job.
Not only do Congressmen spin things to the press but they lie to themselves. They all want to be seen — and think of themselves — as statesmen fighting for their principles and their constituents when, in most cases, they’re just politicians trying to hang on to their jobs.
And every White House has, by necessity, a lightning rod or two. If we can blame Dick Cheney or Karl Rove or Rahm Emanuel for the dirty politicking that goes on, then the president can be seen as above it all. The good ones keep up that illusion at least until it’s time to cash in on the book deal. The great ones never let on.