Free Markets, Free People
Is the carefully nurtured relationship begun by the then Obama campaign between them and the "professional left" fraying at the edges?
Apparently some among the progressive blogosphere are tired of carrying the administration’s water:
On a conference call to give the progressives their marching orders was our friend David Axelrod smoozing the bloggers. :
"You play a great role in informing people about the stakes of elections," Axelrod told the bloggers. "One of the reasons I was eager to expend time was to enlist you."
But that didn’t set particularly well with at least one blogger – Susan Madrak of Crooks and Liars:
That tension burst out into the open when Madrak directly asked Axelrod: "Have you ever heard of hippie punching?" That prompted a long silence from Axelrod.
"You want us to help you, the first thing I would suggest is enough of the hippie punching," Madrak added. "We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day."
Yeah, well, guess what – they actually expected the administration to do what it said it was going to do. Apparently, like the woman who confronted the President at the most recent town hall, they’re dead tired of defending him.
Fun stuff. My guess is Robert Gibbs will have a coronary. But it is very indicative of the tension and lack of trust that now exists between two groups that were once simpatico.
The problem can be distilled into an easily digestible sentence – the administration has not done what it promised the “professional left” it would do.
So – is this just a fight or is it a break up?
Where would the professional left go? Who would they support? How would they get anything done … anything at all?
Well that depends I think. Many of those Gibbs tagged as the “professional left” are a part of the radical left. They’d actually be quite comfortable if there was a real “progressive” third party choice. At the moment there isn’t and Obama, who they were gulled into thinking was the answer to all their liberal dreams, hasn’t fulfilled the promises they wrote on the blank slate Obama presented.
Not much of a surprise for those who’ve observed politics for more than a day.
But back to the conference call:
"To the extent that we shouldn’t get involved in intramural skirmishing, I couldn’t agree more," Axelrod said. "We just can’t afford that. There are big things at stake here."
Madrak replied that Axelrod was missing the point — that the criticism of the left made it tougher for bloggers like herself to motivate the base. "Don’t make our jobs harder," she said.
"Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha," Axelrod replied, a bit testily, an apparent reference to blogospheric criticism of the administration.
This isn’t going to get any better. If anything, it is going to get worse. And whoever replaces Axelrod and takes over the outreach has their work cut out for them. As Greg Sargent concludes:
At any rate, for Axelrod to plead with liberal bloggers for their help turning out the base, only to get accused of "hippie punching," is an iconic moment in Campaign 2010.
As presidential spokesmen go, Robert Gibbs is among the worst I’ve ever seen. Yesterday, without provocation or necessity, he proved the point – he picked a fight with what he calls, "the professional left". That would be the part of the progressive left that has been pounding Obama for not being "progressive" enough. Not being progressive enough is exemplified by the lack of a public option in the health care bill, gay marriage, DADT, and Guantánamo Bay.
Said Gibbs in an interview with The Hill, Gibbs said of the criticism from that quarter:
“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”
“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
“They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”
I don’t know about you, but I have gotten a huge chuckle out of his comments. Now they know how Joe Lieberman felt (while his boss was piling on at the time). But grins and chuckles aside, this points to something many people have noted about this White House – it is as thin skinned as any I’ve ever seen.
Gibbs is a true believer – he’d have to be to say much of what he does each day. And he is only the most visible of a bunch of true believers who work within the inner circles of the administration. They cannot believe that those who should be their ideological soul mates are constantly criticizing them. For instance, much of the “professional left” has criticized the administration’s two Supreme Court appointees for not being liberal enough.
My goodness – they’re women and one is of Hispanic heritage. What more do they want! They’ve hit all of the “progressive” diversity buttons and those people want more!
As for the “professional left” they’re in a frenzy today (well, name a day they’re not in a frenzy).
Maybe Mr. Gibbs it’s because the unions are losing power and you aren’t helping us. Maybe it’s because finance reform does little to impact those suffering from out and out mortgage fraud. Maybe it’s because medical costs and insurance are too high.
It seems to me that while your administration has put a bandaid on my gaping 10-inch surgical wound, you have done very little to treat the underlying problem that corporate America has too much control over our lives. We want to see you fight corporate America, not bloody the eyes of left-wing liberals and then kick us to the curb calling us drug addicts if we complain.
Because “corporate America” is the real villain.
John Aravosis, who admits to doing “dirty work” for the Obama campaign when they requested it:
The left isn’t upset with the President because we’re just too darned demanding. We’re upset with Barack Obama because he never seems to try. He talks a good talk, but when it comes time to actually follow through on his promises, he winces.
Point Aravosis. Something many of us have noticed and commented on. It’s called lack of leadership. But hey, “dirty work” Aravosis helped put the man in the position so my sympathy is limited, if non-existent. Because of the John Aravosis’ of the world, we’re stuck with this administration for two more years.
Jane Hamsher says the problem is Obama:
Gibbs does the only thing you can do when trying to defend a record of corporatist capitulation: triangulate against your critics as extremists. But the fact is, the positions Obama has abandoned aren’t the exclusive territory of Dennis Kucinich. Standing up to the banks and the insurance companies, reducing the political influence of corporate money, defending Social Security and ending the wars are issues that are broadly popular with the American public. That’s why Obama campaigned on them in order to pave his way to the White House.
And she notes:
Gibbs’ slam on progressives just as the August break begins means that Congressional Democrats across the country are going to have to bear the brunt of his comments as they try to whip up enthusiasm for their campaigns. They’re going to have to explain why they deserve support even as the White House holds progressives in contempt. Progressives are the people who volunteer, who donate, who vote, and the polls show a serious enthusiasm gap. Members of Congress are already angry that the president blames “Washington DC” for the country’s ills, and that’s a group that includes them. Pissing off the base like this isn’t going to help — it’s a self-indulgent, petty and ill-timed move.
The biggest problem faced by Democrats, if primary turnouts are any indication, is a lack of enthusiasm. This particular bone-headed (but welcome) move doesn’t help that problem at all.
Which is what Digby at Hullabaloo also points out:
There is also a case to be made that the Democratic establishment should be concerned about enthusiasm — that the activist base needs to be handled with a little bit more respect because they are the ones who knock on doors and make the calls. There’s something to that, of course, particularly in the mid-terms which depend so heavily on getting the base out.
But what’s dangerously myopic about going ballistic as Gibbs did in his statements is that just 10 years ago we had a little event in which only a tiny portion of the base went with a third party bid from the left — and the consequences were catastrophic. Democrats, of all people, should remember that every vote matters.
Indeed. So it is interesting that the frustration with their base boils over at the most inappropriate time of all. Message discipline – something at which the Obama campaign was very good – seems to have become a lost art within the White House. Instead their immaturity is more and more evident every day. As Ezra Klein points out, when compared to Ronald Reagan, Obama’s poll ratings are almost exactly the same. Yet we see this whining petulance from the likes of Gibbs which obviously mirrors his boss. If Reagan was bothered by his critics, his critics surely never knew that. It’s called “maturity” and “leadership”.
Of course course Gibbs is “walking back” on his comments, calling them “inartful”. Hate to tell you buddy, but your entire tenure as White House press secretary has been the definition of “inartful”.
And, of course, this will all blow over. Despite Digby’s implied threat that some of the “professional left” could seek a third party on the left, that’s not going to happen. Like co-dependent drug addicts (speaking of drug testing) these two groups need and depend on each other. The “professional left” with whine about the White House and the White House will whine about them. But when push comes to shove, the professional left will line up behind their only choice. Maybe not in the numbers they could once muster, but still there.
Meanwhile, righteous rants will continue on the lefty blogs, hurt feelings will be displayed, promises about not supporting Obama anymore will be made and then forgotten. Like I said, these folks really don’t have anywhere else to go.
UPDATE: What would a post on the “professional left” be without a word from Keith Olberman (via Ragspierre in comments):