Rahm Emanuel is no teddy bear, and some liberals have complained about the House races he targeted in 2006. But Barack Obama's selection of Emanuel to be chief of staff was very smart because Emanuel possesses the two attributes a president needs and the one he wants in a chief of staff.
An ideal chief of staff needs to be a strong staff manager and gatekeeper, first, and have a strong working knowledge of political and policy Washington. If a president has his druthers, the person will also be a close personal ally and somebody with whom the president has an existing relationship.
Bill Clinton allowed this last criterion to trump the other two when he selected childhood friend Mack McLarty. On the other hand, George W. Bush didn't seem to care that Andy Card was more of a Bush 41 person than a Texas-produced Bush 43 person. If forced to choose between the necessary managerial and Washington-orientation attributes and the preferred attribute of personal proximity, the necessary attributes must hold sway.
Emanuel is no childhood friend of Obama's, but he has known Obama long enough via Chicago politics that he provides almost everything Clinton sought in McLarty and everything Bush demanded of Card. And Emanuel is tougher, too: He won't be fetching cheeseburgers for President Obama.
Is Emanuel's reputation as a flinty, cutthroat SOB a problem? Hardly. In fact, it's an asset. He will keep the hangers-on and hands-out petitioners away from the president as much as possible and, as he proved in his first Sunday interview, with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, he is not going to stray from talking points or make news with his appearances or statements.