Clinton-era memos offer a trip through Mayor Rahm's brain

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Rahm Emanuel: once an ambitious, calculating political operative, always an ambitious, calculating political operative.
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  • Rahm Emanuel: Once an ambitious, calculating political operative, always an ambitious, calculating political operative.
Having nothing better to do on a lovely Friday, I've spent the better part of my day taking a trip through the hidden caverns of Mayor Emanuel's brain.

I tell you—I should get combat pay.

I undertook this exercise by studying memos featured this morning in my beloved Sun-Times that had been buried in President Bill Clinton's archives.

Just so you youngsters know, long before we elected him as our fearless leader, Mayor Emanuel was one of the most relentlessly ambitious young advisers in the Clinton White House.

Apparently, there was a 12-year embargo on releasing documents—like the Emanuel memos—as part of a larger federal initiative to keep Americans ignorant about the crummy stuff their government is up to.

That's similar to the policy we have in right now in Chicago, as you would know if you've ever dealt with the mayor's curious interpretation of the state's open records laws.

Among the archival material recently released is a November 1996 memo written by Emanuel. The memo makes it pretty clear that Emanuel has always been a relentlessly political animal, with few core beliefs, who's engaged in a ceaseless campaign. Not that there's anything wrong with that—I'm just not sure it's a good idea to have a purely political creature running our city.

Emanuel starts the memo by telling President Clinton, "I have drafted some thoughts on White House organization and strategy concerning domestic policy issues."

The first issue is crime—as in what the president can do to out-Republican the Republicans and look tougher on it.

"Since Nixon’s Law and Order campaign, crime has been a staple in the GOP platform,” Emanuel wrote. “Over the past four years, your policies have redefined the issue and allowed Democrats to achieve parity. The question you now face is how do we build on the last four years?”

He's talking about political parity—not parity in the sense of making sure that white collar crime gets punished like street crime, or that racial gaps are addressed.

"When selling" your "flagship crime program," he advises the president, "think of it as a middle class program, not an urban or inner city effort."

Because you definitely wouldn't want to be connected to anything "urban" or "inner city." We all know what that means.

"General McCaffrey is turning out to be an excellent choice," he continues.

That would be former army general Barry McCaffrey, Clinton's drug czar, who continued the war on drugs that began under President Nixon and was ratcheted up by Presidents Reagan and Bush.

That's the war in which we lock up black people for possessing drugs that white people routinely consume. . . while insisting that we should never, ever take drugs, though many of us—including, no doubt, some folks in the White House—are doing so all the time.

In short, Emanuel's advice is to run a PR campaign to provide the president with political cover. The unstated argument is that this stuff is just too complicated to solve—now or ever—so let's not even try.

Emanuel's approach is much the same on immigration, where he lays out proposals that "will enable you to claim and achieve record deportations of criminal aliens."

And you wonder why the mayor's support among Latino voters is so low.

"I would recommend that INS secure key metropolitan areas along the border. The National Guard role should be expanded beyond its present functions."

I can't wait to hear him spin his way out of this one while campaigning in Pilsen, Brighton Park, and Little Village.

On the matter of welfare, Emanuel warns that "the editorial page and liberal elite will push you on fixing the legislation."

Memo to Rahm: you are the liberal elite! At the very least you represent what passes for a liberal these days. And having made it to the White House, you're definitely elite.

You know, there are few things sadder than a self-hating liberal.

Wait, there's more to the memo: "We must change the story line concerning the magnitude of medicare cuts."

That particular story line being that the geezers got fucked.

Which is sort of like the current story line faced by Chicago's retired cops, teachers, and firefighters.

I'll give Rahm credit for this: when talking about how everyone's got to "tighten their belts," he says that "corporate America must contribute to the effort as well."

Tell it like it is, Rahm!

Unfortunately, when it comes to immigration reform he's very specific—haul 'em in and lock 'em up! But when it comes to cracking down on corporate welfare, not so specific. No wonder Bruce Rauner and Kenneth Griffin love him so much.

Now that I think about it, I wish we could see Emanuel's memos about the Defense of Marriage Act—the ban on same-sex marriages that President Clinton signed into law in 1996 so Republicans couldn't call him soft on gays.

The mayor could hold a press conference on this subject just before he marches in this year's Pride Parade.

Emanuel leaves the president with these words of wisdom: "The White House is a political operation."

Substitute the words City Hall for White House and you have an understanding of our mayor at work.

It's all about heightening the boss's brand name and advancing his career as he rushes from one press conference to the next one.

Don't forget this the next time the mayor declares that whatever he's up to—such as closing your schools or clinics—is for your good, not his.

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