A Political Blueprint With Room to Build On
Big Ideas for America
By Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed
Public Affairs Books. 205 pp. $20
In Washington these days, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is making a name for himself as the architect of his party's spirited campaign to retake control of the House. In the new book he has co-written with Bruce Reed, Emanuel sets out to prove he is not the dog about to catch the car he has chased his whole life.
He knows what to do with it once it is his.
That may be surprising enough. Democrats have received their share of grief from those who say they are bereft of ideas and unable to present an alternative vision of governance after more than a decade as the House's minority party.
What is surprising is the "The Plan" itself. Modest in scope, perhaps even timid, "The Plan" is subtitled "Big Ideas for America," but it is not the product of Newt Gingrich-type visionaries from the political left. It is the creation of Emanuel and Reed, two top aides from Bill Clinton's White House who learned the power of small ball and the perils of swinging for the fences. Both were key figures in Clinton's effort -- which achieved mixed success -- to play down traditional liberalism and reorient his party around centrist "New Democrat" themes.
Reed served all eight years in the Clinton White House as chief domestic policy adviser. He watched the president's effort to create universal health care coverage collapse in a policy debacle, but helped his boss get back on his feet with smaller initiatives and compromises with the Republican Congress. Reed is now president of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.
Emanuel, a former party fundraiser, stuck with the Clinton White House from 1993 to 1998 as a senior adviser. He boasts of his role in securing passage of the children's health insurance program, the second-term overhaul of welfare, the ban on assault weapons and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Clinton's ghost haunts virtually every page of this compact, quick read -- overtly as a master of domestic policy, more subtly as the model for waging political warfare. The authors take pains to assure readers that they are not writing as Democrats with political motives but as patriots with the greater good of the country in mind. Clinton was a master at taking partisan jabs with such good-natured, rational bonhomie that he somehow seemed above the fray. Emanuel and Reed try to take much the same tack.
By dividing Washington into high-minded-but-naive policy wonks and political hacks, they set up Republicans for the kill even before they bring in party affiliation. Then they pull out the hatchet.