Judging by the press chatter, the present administration’s tribulations have put either Rahm Emanuel's or Eric Holder’s head on the block. Assume for the sake of argument that Obama is going to have to fire one or the other. That’s a plausible assumption in light of Jane Mayer’s piece suggesting that each of them has decided that there’s not room enough in the administration for the both of them.
Emanuel’s vulnerable because he’s the ruthless Chicago pol who was supposed to get Obama’s liberal legislative agenda passed. Now Obama’s laboring under the public perception that he’s both ruthless and ineffectual. What’s more, Emanuel has managed to alienate a lot of Obama supporters, including members of his cabinet. That makes him a favorite scapegoat for liberals who still hold his New Democratic past against him. Here, for example, is Michael Tomasky:
Holder’s vulnerable because he’s the source of decisions, like Mirandizing the Underpants Bomber and trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York federal District Court, that have Republicans smelling blood in the water. Firing Holder would buy the administration a little relief and placate Democratic centrists who fear that Obama’s marching them off an electoral cliff.“[Obama] really needs to get himself a new chief of staff. . . . If this goes on, he'll lose talented cabinet secretaries and the loyalty of important Democrats in Congress. And for what, so Rahm can say "fuck" to anyone he feels like it? This guy was supposed to a charming and brutally competent rogue. But so far he's one for three.”
If Obama’s going to fire either Emanuel or Holder, put me in the fire-Holder camp. Emanuel’s taking heat for the fact that healthcare reform is stalled. Yet securing sixty votes in the Senate and then brokering a deal between bitterly divided Senate and House Democrats to pass a bill opposed by 55% of likely voters was no mean feat. We’d now be hailing it as an historic achievement if congressional Democrats hadn’t lost their nerve after the Massachusetts Senate election (see Ezra Klein in this connection). It wasn’t Emanuel’s job to sell ObamaCare to the public.
Holder is supposed to make good on Obama’s promises to subject anti-terrorism policy to the rule of law. How’s that going? Have you figured out what legal principle Holder invoked when he decided that KSM should be tried in a civilian court while the cases of other Gitmo detainees are to be heard by military commissions? Do you understand why trying KSM in civil court will restore our international reputation when Holder has already said that acquittal “is not an option”? Have you figured out what legal principle dictated that the Underpants Bomber be Mirandized before he was interrogated by intelligence officers?
If you believe the polls, a substantial majority of likely voters think that these decisions are indefensible. It’s Holder’s job to defend them.