What would people have said if John McCain had won the election, given a wonderful speech about bringing the divided country back together in unity, and then as his first presidential act picked Karl Rove as his chief of staff? That's pretty much what Barack Obama's choice of Rahm Emmanuel amounts to. It isn't a good sign that he's picked one of the most divisive figures in national politics to help lead what he's saying is a new start to change the way people do politics and unify a bitterly divided country. I never saw Obama as really bi-partisan. It's not as if he has a record of getting together with Republicans and working together with them to put together moderate legislation. He just does what he's going to do anyway and convinces Republicans to vote for it. But Emmanuel isn't just "not really bi-partisan". He led the fight for the Democrats to retake Congress in 2006, and it was well-publicized at that time that he'd used some of the dirtiest tricks in the business to make that effort succeed. He's exactly the kind of figure Obama has spent lots of time saying he isn't and saying politicians need to stop being.
It's interesting to compare the early complaints about Bush in 2000 and 2001 for his choice of John Ashcroft, who almost didn't get approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee even to be voted on by the whole Senate. Ashcroft is a nice guy who happens to hold a position toward the extreme on the abortion issue, namely that pro-lifers shouldn't have an exception in rape cases, because the moral status of the fetus doesn't change if the cause of its existence is rape. It's an eminently reasonable position, actually. He holds prayer meetings that some of his co-workers would go to with him. That was pretty much the evidence against him, actually. His being a nice Christian who holds one view that's in the minority was reason enough that he couldn't possibly serve as an unbiased enforcer of the law. Ironically, Ashcroft was a check on those in the administration who really were extremist when it really came down to it with the wiretapping program. I don't remember any harsh words ever uttered by him against any person in the opposing party, even if he has strongly disagreed sometimes with their views. Still, no one has apologized for how the Senate Democrats treated him, and I'm sure no one will.
Rahm Emmanuel, by contrast, was the brains behind many partisan smear efforts during the 2006 election, misrepresenting Republicans left and right with the mere goal of getting a few more Democrats elected. Most politicians of any party will display some dishonesty in order to get elected, and they think their views are better enough that they think it's worth it. But it's usually slight exaggerations or focusing on aspects of a bill that someone pragmatically voted for based on other aspects of the bill or in Obama's case focusing on surface-level elements of your proposed policies while ignoring their more indirect impact. But Emmanuel is known for much more serious partisan politics, insisting that Democratic candidates should do everything possible to win their races (a view Obama has himself said isn't good for the Democratic party or for the country).
So Obama's first move after being elected is to break a significant campaign promise that he'd even reiterated in his acceptance speech the night of the election. He said he'd set a new tone. Selecting Rahm Emmanuel two days later is not setting a new tone. At least Nancy Pelosi waited a couple months before breaking her 2006 election-night promise to include House Republicans in planning congressional reform measures. Obama didn't even wait 48 hours. People are speculating that Obama was thinking he could make himself look like the good cop if he's got such a clear bad cop as his chief of staff, but that's not likely. Did Bush look like the good cop just because Rove, Cheney, and others in his administration were doing the bad copy duties? Complaints about Rove are very much a part of the anti-Bush vitriol from the left. This is only going to fuel partisanship, and Obama is now going to be associated with Emmanuel's style of politics, because when all things are said and done it's still Obama's chief of staff who is known for that kind of partisanship. He's shot his unity effort in the foot, and it's going to be very hard to get any momentum back in that attempt. He's basically going to have to convince some genuine conservatives (i.e. not Colin Powell) to work in his administration and to give them a significant place in setting policy for me to be reassured that he really does intend change of the sort he's said he favors.