Editor’s Note

As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel declines to run for a third term, we’re reminded of this story from our archive. Firedoglake editor-in-chief Jane Hamsher highlighted how Emanuel said liberals were “fucking retarded.” She previously had worked to convince any reporter in the Beltway to pursue this story. The report in the Wall Street Journal resulted in a public apology that directly inspired this classic impersonation from Andy Samberg on “Saturday Night Live.”

One thing you find out pretty quickly when dealing with beltway press is that Rahm Emanuel is a source for most of them, and that they’re generally unwilling to criticize him lest they blow up one of their best sources of White House spin. So, it’s rare that a journalist (in this case the Wall Street Journal’s Peter Wallsten, recently arrived from the Los Angeles Times) runs a non-lapdog profile.

Most amusing to me was the fact that he finally got the goods about Rahm’s famous Veal Pen tirade, when Rahm showed up at the Common Purpose meeting and lambasted the liberal interest groups because MoveOn was running radio ads against Blue Dogs.

Previously it had been reported that Rahm called them “fucking stupid,” even though the scuttlebutt was that Rahm said they were “fucking retards.”  It’s a tight-lipped crowd to penetrate, and nobody wants to get zapped from the meetings for talking to the press.  But Wallsten managed to get the story:

The friction was laid bare in August when Mr. Emanuel showed up at a weekly strategy session featuring liberal groups and White House aides. Some attendees said they were planning to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama’s health-care overhaul.

“F—ing retarded,” Mr. Emanuel scolded the group, according to several participants. He warned them not to alienate lawmakers whose votes would be needed on health care and other top legislative items.

Yesterday a journalist asked me if I thought Rahm was a “tough guy,” because he’s hearing many people say that he’s actually shallow and weak.  I pointed him to this famous story:

[T]he definitive Rahm Emanuel story takes place in Little Rock, Ark., in the heady days after Bill Clinton was first elected President.

It was there that Emanuel, then Clinton’s chief fund-raiser, repaired with George Stephanopoulos, Mandy Grunwald and other aides to Doe’s, the campaign hangout. Revenge was heavy in the air as the group discussed the enemies – Democrats, Republicans, members of the press – who wronged them during the 1992 campaign. Clifford Jackson, the ex-friend of the President and peddler of the Clinton draft-dodging stories, was high on the list. So was William Donald Schaefer, then the Governor of Maryland and a Democrat who endorsed George Bush. Nathan Landow, the fund-raiser who backed the candidacy of Paul Tsongas, made it, too.

Suddenly Emanuel grabbed his steak knife and, as those who were there remember it, shouted out the name of another enemy, lifted the knife, then brought it down with full force into the table.

”Dead!” he screamed.

That’s not “tough.”

“Tough” is knowing you’re going to take massive shit for standing up to powerful interests and then doing it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what Obama told people he would do when he was running for President.

You’re not a tough guy if your first thought upon assuming the power of the Presidency is to use  it to punish your enemies.  You’re a cowardly, petty, small-minded thug.

I’m sure Rahm spreads the knife story around to promote the myth of himself as a rebel and a fighter, but most people experience “that guy” as a brown nose for power ready to rumble on behalf of the status-quo.

It’s like watching a sixth grader snatch the lunch money from a kindergartner for calling him a bully.  The day that becomes “tough” is the day Rahm fits the bill.

Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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