Early in the latest election cycle, I favored Mark Warner. When he pulled out, I pinned hopes on Richardson. I started looking at Obama only after New Hampshire. My reasoning was based on a standard reading of presidential political history.
Since the Civil War, 80%* of presidents were either governors or vice presidents.
A few were senators in addition to being VP or governor.
The remainder break out as follows:
2 generals (Grant, Eisenhower)* Actually 78%.
2 cabinet secretaries (Hoover and Taft**)
2 senators (Kennedy and Garfield). Neither served a full term.
** Taft was Governor of the Philippines and Harding was Lt. Governor of Ohio.
My reading of this historical pattern was that serious presidential candidates needed to surround themselves with a loyal coterie of people who knew their careers and fortunes were tied to his success. In other words, you need people who will take a bullet for you and, if necessary, stab people for you. When you arrive in town, you need to have your own machine. If you don't have one, you need to get one and you don't have time to build one.
Grant, Eisenhower, and Kennedy were able to surround themselves with such a coterie without going through the traditional path of political machine building. Grant had the Civil War, Eisenhower had World War II, and Kennedy had his father.
Obama may have had supporters and allies. But having Harry Reid working for you behind the scenes is no substitute for a loyal right-hand man who has been with you for decades. Clinton had McLarty. Reagan had Deaver, Baker, and Meese. Bush The Lesser had Rove. Carter had Bert Lance. We remember how well that worked out for Carter.
After winning the election, Obama's had to build the proper machine to operate effectively in DC. Looking at Carter's experience, it was clear that no one is going to get very far pretending there is no establishment. Or worse, thinking they can ignore the establishment and everyone will bend to their will. The pool of proven talent available to Obama was largely limited to the people who served in the Clinton administration. I'm not saying they are the only people capable of doing the work. I'm saying that group was the best place to find the people with established connections to get things done with a single phone call.
That is where I think Rahm fits in. On the one hand, he is a consummate Washington insider. On the other hand, he is a seasoned Chicago pol. Experienced and familiar. The areas of agreement and disagreement were well known to both men. The styles of operation were well known to both men. Any skeletons were known to both men. Rahm's added benefit would be he knows where any bodies are buried. If he doesn't, he could probably find out with one or two phone calls at most.
To his credit, Obama picked someone with complementary skills and style to his own. Stylistically, they are dramatically different. But philosophically and politically, they are not terribly different. Rahm has been firmly in the Clinton camp for years. The political differences between Rahm and Hillary are very small. This is not a reach for Obama. The policy differences between Hillary and Obama were very small, too. When it comes to distinguishing the political positions of Emanuel, Clinton and Obama, we are looking at shades of gray. Look at the debate about mandates for a perfect example.
Considering the arms length treatment of progressive Democrats by Clinton and Emanuel, it is no surprise the tepid embrace by Obama has melted away. Neither Clinton nor Emanuel have ever posted on Daily Kos. Obama has. Richardson has. Edwards has. About 20% of the Senate has. Even Carter has. Posting here is not a litmus test of support for progressive politics by any means. But it's a pretty good indicator of who thinks progressives are a constituency they need to reach. It's no secret how Hillary and Rahm feel about us.
Obama is not a revolutionary. He's a reformer. He is not an idealogue. He's pragmatic. He has always been one for taking calculated risks. He is not rash like McCain. That was one of his prime selling points. Obama has always been consistent in his rhetoric. He never talked about "storming the gates" and changing the game. He talked about "bending the arc of history" and redirecting the ship of state. Given the ferocity of the animosity waiting for him in DC, he would have been a fool to go the Carter route. Clinton was attacked mercilessly, yet he survived two terms. That is success you can't ignore. The survivors of those battles have talent worth tapping.
Put it all together and it is easy to see why he has surrounded himself with people who have been in the Clinton camp for years. If you look at his particular needs, I think the composition of Obama's inner circle makes sense. He is surrounded by experienced players from Washington and Chicago. The question now is will he rally them to his vision, or will he settle for what they tell him is possible?