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David Brooks On The Softer Side Of Rahm Emanuel: “He’s A Warmhearted Machiavellian”

Even before he joined the White House as President Obama‘s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel had quite a reputation. Stories about his ferocity are numerous; there’s even a website called rahmfacts.com that collects them. When Saturday Night Live parodied Emanuel’s White House goodbye speech, the show painted “Rahmbo” as a cutthroat, merciless overlord who warned his replacement, Peter Rouse, that he’d have to prepare himself to do some nasty things upon taking Emanuel’s old job.

New York Times columnist David Brooks, though, has a different take on Emanuel. In today’s paper, he published a piece called “The Soft Side” that argues against the prevailing narrative about Emanuel:

In my experience, Rahm’s reputation for profanity and rage is vastly overstated. On several occasions I thought I was finally going to see him on the rampage. In March 2009, I wrote a column arguing that Obama was not the fiscal moderate he pretended to be. Rahm asked me to stop by his office that afternoon. I came wearing my asbestos underwear, but Rahm calmly made his case with graphs and charts.

Last year, I wrote a column opposing health care reform. First, I acknowledged the arguments for the bill. Then I criticized the lack of cost control. Rahm called that morning, but with a smile in his voice: “Hey, I loved your first four paragraphs!”

Over the summer, I wrote a tough column wondering if Obama had the tenacity to fight a long war in Afghanistan. That week, I ran into Rahm at a Bruce Springsteen concert. He was clearly angry and would barely shake my hand. “That column. …” he said, icily, and then walked away.

That was as florid as I’ve seen him get. Far from being a head-busting capo, I’ve found him to be more thick-skinned about criticism than most people I write about.

Over all, Rahm is a warmhearted Machiavellian. On the one hand, he is a professional strategist. He surveys the landscape and figures out how he can push or maneuver people into getting what he wants. He ran a disciplined White House.

Earlier in the column, Brooks also compares Emanuel to “an urban cowboy;” make of that what you will.

Though Brooks’ thesis is undercut by the fact that he uses personal anecdotes as his only evidence, it’s still interesting to see a voice in the media trying to lend some nuance to Emanuel’s character. If the former Chief of Staff truly does have a softer side, at least his opponents in Chicago’s mayoral race won’t have to worry about receiving two-and-a-half-foot-long fish in the mail. Probably.

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