Emanuel was a senior advisor in the Clinton White House from 1993-1999 and now is arguably the second most powerful person in the Obama administration. He was the guest at Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters on Thursday.
When, fairly early in the hour-long session, John Dickerson of Slate and CBS News asked Emanuel to compare how the two presidents dealt with domestic and international issues, he quipped “can we go to that last?”
Difficulties in comparing presidents
Emanuel then launched into an extensive description of the array of issues each president confronted. “The world that they’re dealing with is fundamentally different,” he said. “I think they are incredibly talented individuals, OK? They have different styles, they’re at a different time, they’re also at different ages in their -- I mean their own biography, they’re at different ages.”
But from Emanuel’s ringside seat, the issues on Obama’s plate -- Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, the faltering economy -- are orders of magnitude tougher than what President Clinton faced in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia.
“While every president has a domestic issue and an international issue, etc., I mean, President Obama has what President Clinton had, but, I don’t want to say, it’s not appropriate to say on steroids, but by a quotient of ten,” Emanuel said.
Clinton the creative
He was careful to stress his admiration for former President Clinton. “I loved, as you know, working for President Clinton, who had an unbelievably creative mind. And I think was, for a host of reasons, was a very significant president. I was honored to work for him.” Emanuel served as political director in the Clinton White House.
In contrast to the “creative” description of Clinton, Emanuel said his current boss had “one of the most disciplined minds and styles I’ve ever seen….I exercise every day. I’ve been doing it for umpteen years. I read a book, one every three weeks. I think I’m personally pretty disciplined. This guy is incredibly disciplined. And not only structured, but his mind is unbelievably disciplined.”
Obama's late night prep
When asked for an example, Emanuel noted that Obama, “goes into a meeting and he’ll have read the brief the night before, and have the crux of his argument written down that he wants to drive that discussion to basic points. And he goes right to either the assumptions, the presumptions of the case.”
The Chief of Staff’s relations with the press were the subject of a story in the Washington Post earlier this week called “Rahmbo and the Reporters.” It described what the Post’s press critic, Howard Kurtz, called Emanuel’s aggressive and relentless working of media contacts, often in a brusquely efficient manner.
But the Emanuel who showed up Thursday morning was full of cheer and charm. At one point he began an answer by saying, “If I can get one thing across to this esteemed group of Washington journalists. (pause) I hope you appreciated that....usually the word 'esteemed' and Washington journalist don’t go together.” And then he resumed his answer on the chances of getting health reform passed in a bipartisan manner.