The emperor is nekkid

Digby is thinking about Rahm Emanuel’s legislative tactics and concludes that either he never had much interest in getting health care reform passed, or else he’s just fantastically inept:

I’m not one to mythologize single actors, and I do believe that the buck always stops with the president. But either Rahm is a brilliant legislative strategist, in which case he didn’t bother to use his great powers to pass health care reform for reasons we can only speculate about, given the stakes — or his reputation for brilliance is extremely overrated.

Putting aside the question of whether Rahm planned things this way all along, I’ve been wondering about this phenomenon of vastly inflated reputations lately (see also Matt Yglesias on Mike Pence, who’s apparently a moron despite many conservatives believing he’s brilliant) . From an incentive point of view, it seems to me that mostly things cut in only one direction here when the person is already sitting high in a given hierarchy. If you’re a young conservative think tanker or a Democratic staffer looking for an administration job (or, for that matter, a young whippersnapper working your way up the corporate ladder), it does you absolutely no good to point out that Rahm or Pence or your department director  is a total doofus who couldn’t find his ass with a map and GPS.  And so you’re bound to end up with these situations where people in leadership positions have reputations that rise and rise all out of proportion to their actual capabilities – to the point where people barely notice when they aren’t living up to them.

My main concern with this at the moment is political: I’m trying to figure out how Democrats can create party discipline around a center-left consensus that most of them (and I think most Americans, to be honest) agree on. Right now it looks like the congressional caucus is composed mostly of political hacks, and it’s their wonkish, usually smarter staffers who hold things together ideologically. The problem with this is that seeing as how they’re the ones with the actual votes in Congress, it’s hard to keep the hacks from breaking ranks whenever they feel like it. So one thing I’d like to see happen is: let’s find us some smarter hacks, please.

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