Political Myth Making

rahm-emanuel-on-phoneYou 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!

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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.

Exactly right.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Eric Florack says:

    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 that works, alas, on both sides of the isle.
    I wrote about John McCain the other day:

    And there, to my mind, is the central issue with John McCain. He will most certainly worry about whether or not the Republicans gain anything out of this atrocity inflicted on the American people and yet not worry at all about conservative principles being advanced in that.

    Think, now; at what point in the past has John McCain ever voted against an entitlement program? For that matter, who of the current crop of Republicans has done so? They have at best been supervisors of the infliction of these freedom killers

    As you say, James, they’re too interested in keeping their own jobs to do the right thing.

    This point of yours also seems to me an answer for those who think that a shift of power to the Republicans…(paying no attention to how conservative said Republicans are) is going to guarantee a repeal of this healthcare monster. The fact is, history suggests nothing of the sort. Such repeals never happen.

    Now, I happen to think that the Republicans could, and should run on eliminating the socialist moves by Obama dn the Congressional Democrats. I think they’d win hands down. But they won’t risk such a move, and I suspect it’s because they don’t really believe in moving us away from the socialism recently inflicted on us.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    But they won’t risk such a move, and I suspect it’s because they don’t really believe in moving us away from the socialism recently inflicted on us.

    Awwww…except for a very few conservative and libertarian souls, we’re all socialists now…