“OH HOLY MOTHER OF HOT, THIS GODDAMN SLOE-EYED VIXEN,” reads the first comment of the Livejournal post titled “GONNA RAHM THIS MOFO DOWN YOUR THROAT!” The November 2008 post was a series of photos of Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois politician who had recently been named President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
The other comments were similarly keyed up. “FAPFAPFAPFAPFAP,” wrote one user. Another felt inspired to write a very brief fanfiction about Emanuel attempting to seduce House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This was welcomed, even encouraged at the Livejournal community Rahmbamarama, a place where Emanuel’s loudest and most ardent fans congregated during the early years of the Obama administration to talk White House news and post horny photo dumps and smutty fanfiction featuring Emanuel and other Democratic Party members and allies.
Emanuel was known as an enigmatic advisor for Bill Clinton prior to serving as an Illinois Congressman from 2002 to 2009, when he officially became White House Chief of Staff. He was driven and, by Washington standards, was young and not entirely unattractive, which is all it takes to be swoon-worthy in American politics. (During the 2020 presidential campaign, Pete Buttigieg developed a keen fanfiction writing fanbase for these same qualifications.) Politics fandom ran on this sliver of desirability to an undeniably chaotic conclusion: consuming politics in the same way one does celebrity gossip, regarding biography as lore, and finding community in the absurdity of it all. Nowhere was this more evident than at Rahmbamarama, a place where fandom was fueled by uniquely Obama-era earnestness.
“Who in the hell doesn’t love Rahm?” intoned the subject line of a blog posted to Rahmbamarama in the community’s infancy. The blog continued:
My sister, who has never been inclined to give a shit about anything political—much to the disappointment of my political junkie heart—has fallen in love with Rahm Emanuel.
We decided that if he ran for President, his slogan should be: “Bringing BAMF back to America”
So, if Rahm Emanuel does run for President someday, what do you think his slogan should be? RAHM EMANUEL WANTS YOUR MOTHERFUCKING IDEAS. HE NEEDS THEM.
One of the tags of the post reads, “rahm emanuel doesn’t sleep. he waits.” One woman replied, “I’M TIRED OF THIS MOTHERFUCKING PARTISAN POLITICS IN THIS MOTHERFUCKING CONGRESS!” in a reference to the camp classic Snakes on a Plane.
From the use of “BAMF,” (short for bad-ass motherfucker for those of you who cannot remember that far in the past) to the Emanuel-fication of a Chuck Norris meme, it’s clear that this was the internet of the late 2000s, when starting a sentence with the LOLcat-inspired “can I haz” wasn’t considered deeply dorky. At least, not in this pocket of Livejournal. By this time, Livejournal was largely a haven for fandom activity, fashion devotees, and purveyors of tawdry celebrity rumors. After a few years, much of Livejournal’s terminally online userbase would congregate to Tumblr and Twitter, leaving the Livejournal era—the blogs, the communities, the drama—behind. But before Livejournal’s popularity petered out entirely, the early years of the Obama administration began, and with it came the birth of Rahmbamarama, where fandom nerds and wannabe wonks collided. There’s a post titled “Nate Silver is my sapiosexual lust object.” What this community was about and who it was for was never really a mystery.
Rahmbamarama is the ultimate encapsulation of liberalism in the late 2000s and early 2010s, an era when Obama was the epitome of cool, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were political heroes, Keith Olbermann was your favorite curmudgeonly uncle, Rachel Maddow was your cool lesbian aunt, and the liberal fantasy world of Parks and Recreation was aspirational. It’s an era that already feels distant, not just because several of the posts and comments were written in LOLcat format, but because of its deep earnestness—from faith in Democratic politicians to squealing over Emanuel’s butt in a pair of modestly fitting jeans. The nation had endured eight long years of neocon dominance, and the historic election of the first Black president was as triumphant as it was euphoric. Even with the economic recession gripping the nation, the possibilities that suddenly seemed viable with a charismatic Democrat like Obama leading the nation were intoxicating enough to inspire some industrious young women to think, “Hey, yeah, I’ll write fanfic about Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean getting railed by Rahm Emanuel.”
This illusion isn’t unique to Democrats; the cult of personality surrounding former President Trump proves that. But as Joe Biden—a regular in the Rahmbamarama universe—begins his own White House tenure, one has to wonder if the liberal fervor of the Rahmbamarama days will return. Just as in the post-Bush era, the post-Trump era is ripe to revive the insistent optimism that marked the Obama years.
In any stan community, the more exaggerated the fawning, the better. That’s the social currency of standom, and the commentary at Rahmbamarama was no exception.
Emanuel was regarded as a sex symbol, a hardass DC strategist with a potty mouth whose petite frame appeared to run on partisan rage. The community members reveled in his tough-guy act (not to mention the fact that he had half of a finger missing, a fast-food accident from decades prior). But they also made sure to squeal over the fact that Emanuel was a gifted ballet dancer who turned down a scholarship to the prestigious Joffrey Ballet to attend Sarah Lawrence College. This offered the community a tale of two Rahms: A wound up West Wing character come to life, and a family man who was once nicknamed “tiny dancer” by his sneering critics.
Knowing the ins and outs of Emanuel’s biography was like a badge of honor, and so was sharing dirty jokes about him. In one December 2008 blog regarding a Washingtonian article about Emanuel’s cursing, one commenter replied “Oh, the things I want him to do to me with that dirty, dirty mouth.” A June 2009 Washington Post article noted that “Emanuel serves up on-the-record quotes, background spin and the sort of capital gossip that lubricates relationships.” The response from the Rahmbamarama community was predictable: “As a journalist, I hope to lubricate my relationship with him too someday,” one member wrote, “I’d rather lubricate my relationship with Rahm with some KY Intrigue, but a little pillow talk is always welcome.” The comments were even hornier after a Bloomberg article about Emanuel’s workout regimen and “ability to persuade at low volume and often over a glass of red wine” was shared among the community that same year.
“Hasn’t something like this been implied before — that he can come off all sweet and soft and then surprise you with his ferocity the next moment?” one commenter replied.
She continued: “Oh God I bet he gets all up in your face at what he may or may not realize is an inappropriate distance for a public setting and then moves back before your [sic] can respond and lifts the edge of his shirt to give you and peek at his *~abs~* but when you reach to feel he slaps your hand away and yells NO TOUCHY and all the other people in the restaurant hear and he giggles.”
“LIKE YOUR BRAIN,” someone replied. “CAN I LIVE THERE PLZ.”
Of course, Emanuel wasn’t the only one who got the dirty treatment. The community was also horny for former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (often referred to as “Timmeh” on the community). They were particularly intrigued by one photograph in which he is ostensibly eyeing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Um... What exactly is Timmeh Looking at in This Picture?” read the subject line, followed by, “Does someone have a little crush on Madam Secretary?”
“Geithner has such tender look to him. XD *fangirls*” read one reply.
In May 2010, the community discussed a few excerpts from a chapter about Emanuel in Jonathan Alter’s The Promise. One choice quote noted that sometimes, when Emanuel became too worked up, “Obama had to hose [Rahm] down with a firm ‘This is gonna get done, Rahm. It will.’”
“I bet Obama likes to hose him down when he’s on all fours,” one member responded.
“It’s what brought them together at the bathouse [sic] all those years ago...” replied another, referring to a right-wing conspiracy theory about Obama and Emanuel frequenting gay bathhouses in Chicago.
“Where is all the Obama admin gangbang fic?” the original commenter responded.
A third member replied, “THIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSS.”
This was fandom behavior in a political package: out-of-context photos rendered “shippy,” like One Direction fangirls who overanalyzed every glance between Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. These women were a little older than One Direction fans—likely ranging from late teens to thirties—but the impulses were similar, as was the defensiveness. (When a series of articles critical of Emanuel’s performance made the rounds in spring 2010, responses from Rahmbamarama ranged from “Everybody just needs to STFU and let Barry be Barry and Rahm be Rahm and shit will get done” to “STFU Huffington Post - You’re on my list.”)
In one of the few introspective posts on Rahmbamarama, a community member asked what everyone actually thought of Emanuel’s politics. Given the fangirlish enthusiasm in all the other posts, the responses were surprisingly sober. Many admitted that while they admired his personality, his politics were not progressive enough, and that his determination to get shit done too often outweighed a drive to pursue bold ideas and transformative change, something Obama ostensibly ran on during his campaign. Emanuel was opposed to the passage of robust health care reform like the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), concerned about its lack of bipartisan appeal and skeptical of its passage. In January 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that during a 2009 strategy meeting with “liberal groups and White House aides,” Emanuel chided a plan to air ads targeting conservative Democrats who opposed Obama’s healthcare overhaul, calling it “fucking retarded.” He eventually apologized, for both the remark and years later for his opposition to what was easily Obama’s biggest legislative victory. “Thank God for the country, [Obama] didn’t listen to me,” Rahm said after the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in 2012.
Unfortunately, his poor instincts weren’t enough to put his political career on ice.
Emanuel’s eventual departure from the White House in October 2010 was met with sadness and rampant denial, but the announcement of his mayoral campaign in Chicago was poised to be similarly exuberant. Members posted about debates and even discussed meeting up for rallies. But by then, the engagement on Rahmbamarama began to slow; Livejournal was rapidly falling out of favor, and the Obama era wasn’t quite as shiny and new as it once was. After 2011, posts became increasingly sporadic. In 2013, someone posted a Gawker link about an interview with Brian Williams and the Emanuel brothers: Rahm, who was then mayor of Chicago, Hollywood agent Ari, and Ezekiel, an oncologist and controversial bioethicist who is currently a member of Biden’s covid-19 advisory board. The brothers were promoting Ezekiel’s memoir, but Ari was apparently unhappy with the tone of the interview and sent an angry letter to NBC about it.
“My love for Rahm has been complicated by the shit he’s pulled in Chicago over the past few years,” the poster wrote. “But my love for RBR remains strong. Maybe we’ll all regroup in time for a Gillibrand presidency.”
The post received one lone reply, a paltry showing compared to the number of comments this topic would have brought in years earlier.
One of the last posts in the community was in 2014, when a one-time lurker was looking for fanfic: “It was a post with a few drabbles about Rahm and the one I loved the most was about his spending time with a French governess (I think?)“
She took some time to reminisce about the community at its height, how it provided her with hours of entertainment after a grueling work shift, and that she’d yet to find a community with as many passionate members as this one, even on Tumblr. “I really wish that we could rewind time and re-live the active days of this community,” she wrote. “I really wish it could perk up and start over, too. But even if it didn’t, everything I remember is still here.”
And there it remains, 12 years after its creation, a graveyard of broken Tinypic links and Photobucket images covered in ugly watermarks. It is a relic of a dormant era when you could call yourself a progressive and fawn over close-up photos of Emanuel’s ass during a visit with the Israeli Defense Forces at the same time without a hint of irony.
I was a member of Rahmbamarama, a fact I completely forgot until I saw my Livejournal username pop up in the comment section of a few random Anderson Cooper-related blogs. I was 18 years old and, apparently, way more into Cooper than Emanuel. But I’m not the only veteran of the community who now works in media. Aja Romano, a staff writer at Vox, created Rahmbamarama with a few others. Romano was what we called a BNF (big name fan) who carried a significant amount of clout on Livejournal. In other words, Romano was fandom famous, and their involvement with Rahmbamarama certainly legitimized the community. When I reached out to Romano for comment, they were initially excited to speak with me about this era of internet history, but after reaching out to their former co-mods who declined to speak on the record, they decided to bow out too.
I’m not surprised: There’s only one thing more embarrassing than having once been a member of a Rahm Emanuel fan community, and that’s creating the community in the first place.
Its existence is especially embarrassing given Emanuel’s track record as Mayor of Chicago from 2011 to 2019. His handful of successes pale in comparison to the mountain of failures that plagued Chicago under his watch, from the city’s education crisis to its policing apparatus. Most galling was his handling of the 2014 death of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old Black boy shot 16 times by a white Chicago police officer. For over a year, Emanuel fought against releasing the police dashcam footage detailing the event, arguing that the incident was still under investigation. But in November 2015—conveniently following his re-election—a Cook County judge ordered its release. Jason Van Dyke, the police officer responsible for McDonald’s death, was charged with murder that same day. According to the Chicago Tribune, “the delay in the murder charge, combined with the fact that Emanuel’s administration and aldermen paid a $5 million settlement to the McDonald family before a lawsuit was even filed, led to accusations of a City Hall cover-up.”
Emanuel now offers political commentary on ABC, but he remains a bit of a political pariah.
“Oh my God, my blood ran cold just reading the comm name,” said one former Rahmbamarama member who goes by LadyPolitik on social media. I sent her a message on Twitter telling her I was writing about the community. “When his name resurfaces now I make Lisa Simpson Stunned Face.”
She added, “a lot of us were super excited to be into the first post-Dubya admin—or first time voting, EVER—and it got wild.”
And it was ripe for parasocial interaction, in which the consumption of a mass media figure develops into an imagined intimacy. With this intimacy comes loyalty and devotion. This isn’t new, but social media has made this even stronger: Powerful figures are more accessible than ever, and real-world relationships and communities are created based on collective infatuation.
Rahmbamarama was built on the premise of regarding the Obama administration and all of its players as a barrel of fun, a barrel of “lolz” even: The president was hot and so was his wife, the vice president wore cool aviators, the chief of staff said “fuck” a lot. After eight years of old fogies and war hawks running the country, Obama was supposed to be an unmistakable breath of fresh air in terms of both policy and tone. The Obama administration played into this perception of effortless cool as well, making sure their official Flickr account had plenty of photos of Obama playing with his dog, hugging babies, getting his bromance on with Biden, and hanging out with Beyoncé. For the most dedicated Obamanistas, no one—conspiracy-addled Republicans, Blue Dogs in Congress, skeptics further to the left—could be their killjoys.
But neither Beyoncé’s seal of approval nor Leslie Knope’s crush on Biden was enough to stop the tide of the Trumpism that followed the Obama years. Crossposting fanfiction about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert fucking to Rahmbamarama certainly isn’t responsible for this shift, but there’s something to be said about denialism that so easily comes with emotional connections to political figures. There aren’t enough Hillary Clinton cameos on Broad City in the world to change the fact that she was detested by large swaths of the country for decades, just as all of the memes in the world couldn’t ignore the fact that Emanuel was an often poisonous influence in the White House and during his tenure as mayor of Chicago. The Biden era is susceptible to this kind of weird political fandom that swaps feelings for politics, especially as people are already more enamored with creating fanfiction about Vice President Kamala Harris’s stepdaughter than measuring the actual state of things.
No one is free of embarrassing phases, and the bonds that can develop from a fannish infatuation are real regardless of their origins. Like the woman who wrote one of the Rahmbamarama’s last posts, sometimes you just need a fun, mindless distraction after a grueling day of work, and talking about Emanuel’s stroke game with a bunch of other women did the trick. If there’s one lesson to be learned from Rahmbamarama, it’s that even your faves will eventually disappoint you, and being insanely horny for them won’t make the disappointment hurt any less.