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Who is Rahm Emanuel?

David Swanson: Rahm Emanuel was a strong supporter of the Iraq war

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Who is Rahm Emanuel?

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: The question of the prosecution of George Bush is one of the issues that will face Barack Obama as he becomes the next president of the United States. Many people think the lack of impeachment procedures set a dangerous precedent about the unitary presidency and the abuse of power. Will Barack Obama address any of this? To analyze this question we are joined now by David Swanson, who’s the founder of After Downing Street and Washington director of democrats.com. He joins us from Virginia. Welcome, David.

DAVID SWANSON, CO-FOUNDER, AFTERDOWNINGSTREET.ORG: Good to be here.

JAY: So, David, with democrats.com and After Downing Street, you guys campaigned quite heavily in favor of Barack Obama. On the other hand, he doesn’t have the most—what can I say?—courageous record in terms of voting on the FISA bill and standing on these questions in relationship to impeachment. Talk a little bit: your response to his election, and then what will be a litmus test for you, whether he’s actually taking on some of the abuses of the last eight years.

SWANSON: Well, here I sit in Virginia, which up through 1964 always voted for a Democrat for president because the Democrats were more racist, and from that point to this always voted for a Republican because the Republicans were more racist. And we’ve been through a campaign where the Republican candidate and running mate ran a racist campaign, and Virginia has voted for Obama—for not only a Democrat, not only the less racist party, but a black man. And so I’m absolutely thrilled. This works wonders for Virginia politics, as well as for national politics. And it would have been an absolute disaster for the peace movement, for any sort of justice movement, to have McCain and Palin in there. Barack Obama is not about to solve all the country’s or the world’s problems left to his own devices, but there is the possibility of public pressure influencing him—he is a politician that responds to public pressure. And so there is hope, there is a role for US citizens.

JAY: Well, one of his first major decisions was his chief of staff. He’s offered the job to Rahm Emanuel. What do you know about Emanuel? And what does it tell you about the direction of the Obama administration?

SWANSON: Well, of course, he already picked as a running mate a senator, Joe Biden, who had led the charge for the invasion of Iraq in the Senate back in 2003, so that was not encouraging either. Rahm Emanuel has been the amazing, early bad news following the last two elections. In January 2007, Rahm Emanuel told The Washington Post, effectively, look, we’re going to let this war go on two years so that we can run against it again—which has cost nearly 2,000 US servicemen and -women their lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And then, following this election, we get the news that Emanuel is being offered the job of chief of staff, which, presumably, he’s going to accept. This is a disaster. You know, it’s good to have someone who knows Congress as your chief of staff; it’s not necessarily good to have someone like Emanuel.

JAY: David, what was the quote? Because that’s kind of an outrageous thing he would have said, to allow a war to continue for pragmatic political purposes. What was the quote to The Post?

SWANSON: Well, there was a story in The Washington Post in January 2007, and it quoted Emanuel in some cases, and it paraphrased him in others. On Iraq it was a paraphrase, but it was to the effect of don’t look to Emanuel’s Democrats for any solution on Iraq. They see it as Bush’s war. They want the Republican Party to fall apart, and they want to be there in two years to pick up the pieces. And so this was telegraphing to the country that the Democrats were going to do what in fact Emanuel orchestrated—and they did for two years—and that was: pretend to try to end the occupation of Iraq, pretend that legislation was needed, and blame the Republican filibuster power and the president’s veto power for their failure to do what they could have accomplished simply by ceasing to fund the occupation.

JAY: So the pro-Emanuel argument that we’ve been hearing is that he’s a fighter. It’s actually throwing down the gauntlet by Obama. Even though he’s talking about bipartisanship, he’s got himself a pit bull to fight the Republicans. Is this a sign, perhaps, of an ability to fight on behalf of Obama?

SWANSON: Well, it comes down to a question of what you’re going to fight for, right? I mean, Josh Lyman, the fictional character based on Emanuel, had some principles he wanted to fight for. I don’t know what those are with Emanuel. If you look at the Reuters story about this today, there’s a quote from a Republican who’s very, very pleased because he thinks Emanuel’s job is going to be cracking the heads of Democrats to move them from the left to the center, which is what his job has been for the past two years. So it wouldn’t surprise me if that were his job. And that’s my worry. Emanuel is a guy who two years ago recruited pro-war candidates to run against antiwar Democrats in primaries. This is the guy who directed all of the money from Washington to pro-war candidates. This is not encouraging to me.

JAY: For people that wanted fundamental change, real change, it doesn’t sound like that’s what it’s going to be. But the potential of a war within the Democratic Party between the progressive and conservative sections must be very real. In picking Emanuel, Obama’s clearly picked the side he’s coming down on.

SWANSON: These centrists, the right-wing side of this debate, is far and away superior to Bush and Cheney or McCain and Palin, there’s absolutely no question. But it’s not a transformational candidacy; it’s not a major change and change we can believe in; it’s absolutely not. When you’re talking about keeping on the same secretary of war—or defense, as we misleadingly call it—that Bush had, that McCain also was proposing to keep on, in Gates, that you’re talking about bringing Colin Powell into your administration, a man who went to the United Nations and blatantly lied us into an aggressive war, this is not what people voted for. And so this honeymoon has been very, very short-lived: it was a matter of hours before Emanuel was offered this job.

JAY: Now, you’ve been very involved originally in an attempt to have an impeachment of Bush, and you’ve been supporting efforts to prosecute George Bush. At the core of that is the issue of defense of constitutional rights and abuse of power. What would you be looking for, both in terms of an appointment of attorney general and pieces of legislation from this administration that might undo some of what was done in the last eight years?

SWANSON: Well, we were talking offline about making Michael Ratner attorney general. I certainly would applaud that and do anything to make it happen. I don’t expect it to happen. This is a candidate, in Obama, who said months ago that he was unaware of any crimes having been committed by Bush and Cheney, but he would immediately have his attorney general look into the question. So we should hold him to that. He has committed to revising the Patriot Act to restore some rights. He’s committed to no longer using signing statements to rewrite laws as he signs them into law. You know, these are encouraging things. We should push for them to happen. But my concern is that if we have eight years of a president blatantly violating the law, rewriting laws with signing statements, and then the only change is that the next president ceases to do it, where is the deterrence down the road to future presidents? What tells them they can’t do what Bush and Cheney did? Which is why I continue to push for impeachment, which can happen even after you’re out of office, and for prosecution, which is very, very low on Obama’s list, but which can happen at the state or local level, which can happen in foreign countries, which can happen internationally. We need that accountability, not just better policies. But I’m very happy that we will be seeing some better policies in the immediate future.

JAY: Thank you very much, David, for joining us.

SWANSON: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you all for joining us. And remember, again, there’s a donate button. And I know I keep nagging about this, but if you don’t support us, we won’t be here. Thank you very much.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.