It’s appropriate that on Thursday night, Rahm Emanuel was not sitting in a position of elected office, but rather in ABC’s Democratic debate spin room. Following a career as mayor of Chicago in which he disdained his constituents and avoided them as much as possible while slashing public services and selling the city off to his corporate patrons, Emanuel appears comfortable in his new life as a pundit.
Emanuel was forced into an early retirement, so he no longer has to face much scrutiny for his anti-democratic governance, nor his alleged cover-up of the police murder of African-American teenager Laquan McDonald, nor his neoliberal policies of gutting social programs to benefit the repugnantly wealthy. His crimes were too many to get elected to a third term in Chicago, so instead, on Tuesday night, he played his new role of Serious Pundit, adopted after inking his lucrative deals as correspondent for ABC News and contributing editor at the Atlantic.
So what sterling commentary did Rahm hand out? Following the debate, he took the mic to declare: “I think Vice President Joe Biden came in and showed energy.”
Such a characterization may come as a surprise to those who, while watching the debate, were reminded of a recent story that reported Biden’s allies have been considering scaling back his public events to prevent further gaffes, especially his appearances that come “late in the day.” And while Biden may not have reprised his recent claim that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” he did again misrepresent his record on the Iraq War — which he vociferously supported — and made the outrageous claim that during his time working in the Obama administration, the United States did not lock up people in cages (it most definitely did).
But Emanuel’s support for Biden is nothing new. In May, he praised the former vice president for showing “discipline” on the trail, at the same time Biden was facing criticism over his campaign’s plans to seek “middle ground” on the existential threat of climate change.
“All the activists are missing that voters are pragmatic. Activists aren’t pragmatic,” Emanuel told Politico. “That’s what Joe Biden has shown. He’s shown that Democrats want to win. It’s not about ‘You’re not for Medicare for All.’ C’mon.”
Indeed, Biden represents exactly the kind of Democratic centrism, veering occasionally into outright reactionary policies, that has defined Emanuel’s entire career. Under the Clinton administration, Emanuel and Biden both worked diligently to push forward policies like NAFTA, which decimated working-class communities the country over, and the 1994 crime bill, which helped fuel the modern era of racist mass incarceration.
With the Democratic Party undergoing a refreshing turn to the left, moderate politicos like Emanuel are facing a narrower lane — which makes Biden, the current front-runner, the obvious choice to stan for.
But it wasn’t just Biden love that Emanuel was selling on ABC. He also repeated the frequent media trope that the 2020 Democratic race is really a competition between two candidates: Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
“The question is really who will fill that third seat,” Emanuel quipped on Thursday night.
Warren has made strides in recent weeks, but there’s no denying the fact that Bernie Sanders is currently in just as strong a position, if not stronger, as Warren at this stage in the primary. Sanders is polling close to Biden in the all-important state of Iowa, while new polls show him in the lead in the other early primary states of New Hampshire and Nevada.
So why did Emanuel suggest that Sanders, alongside other candidates, was simply fighting for the “third seat”? It could be because Sanders represents everything that Emanuel has spent his entire career fighting tooth and nail: an unabashed left-wing approach to solving structural political and economic crises through redistributing both wealth and power downward on the societal ladder.
Perhaps nowhere is this enmity clearer than on the issue of Medicare for All, which Emanuel took to ABC to denounce on Sunday. Cynically alleging that such a universal program would strip 150 million Americans of their health care, Emanuel claimed it was “untenable” for Democrats in a general election. Citing his recent bike tour around Lake Michigan, Emanuel went on to anoint himself the tribune of Midwestern diner-goers who can’t imagine a health care future without their private insurers.
“We have taken a position so far, and the candidates have, through the process — a few have not — on basically Medicare for All, which is, we’re going to eliminate 150 million people’s health care, and we’re going to provide health care for people that have just come over the border,” Emanuel said on ABC’s This Week roundtable.
“That is an untenable position for the general election. As you know, George, I just biked around Lake Michigan, nearly 1,000 miles, through Michigan and Wisconsin, two really important states. Nobody at a diner ran at me and said, take my health care away. Nobody. This is reckless as it relates to — and you don’t have to take the position to win the primary. And you’re basically literally hindering yourself for the general election.”
Of course, the Medicare for All proposal introduced by Sanders would not take away anyone’s health care, but rather improve and expand it to everyone in the country — free at the point of use. Such an enshrining of health care as a human right runs aberrant to Emanuel’s lifelong political creed of free-market fundamentalism and enthusiastic backing of anything that screws working-class people while enriching a small handful of people, so it’s no surprise that he’s attacking it on national television.
But it’s not just ideology at play. In addition to his new punditry gigs, after leaving office, Emanuel joined the boutique investment bank Centerview Partners LLC, where he claims he helps clients “look around corners, to plan a series of moves ahead to get where they’re trying to go.” Along with private equity firms and other corporate and financial entities, Centerview advises private health care companies such as Auris Health, Neurocrine Biosciences, and Omega Healthcare Investors.
These companies all stand to lose out if a Medicare for All system is instituted, which would cut off a spigot of profit to Emanuel and his investment banker cohort.
On the issue of health care, in particular, it’s clear Emanuel is no neutral adjudicator — he’s someone whose personal interests are tied to maintaining the status quo.
Yet, in the face of its carefully orchestrated display of centrist cautioning, ABC made the decision last night to pivot from Emanuel to interviewing two young African-American women who were watching the debate. Asked, “Which candidates here have impressed you the most?” the two women responded in turn:
“So far, Bernie Sanders and just his proposal for Medicare for All, so that just really stood out to me.” Followed by: “I would have to agree, Bernie Sanders. I definitely believe that it’s imperative for all citizens to have access to reliable and affordable health care.”
Turns out, average people aren’t buying the snake oil Emanuel is selling. Cory Booker might have put it best during his post-debate appearance on ABC when he casually walked past the disgraced former mayor and proclaimed: “No hugs for Rahm.”