Free Markets, Free People

Robert Gibbs

Howard Dean endorses Daley and smacks outgoing Obama staff

The Sarah Palin of the Democratic party – Howard Dean – has endorsed a product of the Chicago Machine’s favorite family as Obama’s chief of staff.   He feels William Daley would be a “huge plus” for the Obama  because he is someone “who knows Washington, but he also is not of Washington."

Yeah, that’s kinda the point – he’s from Chicago.  Just like the guy in the Oval office who supposedly “knows Washington” but isn’t of there.

That’s worked out real well so far hasn’t it?  In fact, it appears we’re going to see them shuffle one set of Chicagoans out while another comes in.

Dean also took a shot at the departing members of Obama’s staff for being contemptuous of the “professional left” – i.e. the liberal left:

Noting that many officials are "either out of the White House or going," Dean blasted Obama’s current officials who he says have treated the left wing of the Democratic Party with "contempt."

"As they say, don’t let the door hit you in the you-know-what on the way out," Dean said.

That is mostly pointed at Axelrod and Gibbs.  That said, and Daley endorsed, Dean then even complained a bit about Daley (John Podesta was Dean’s first choice) not being left enough for him:

Dean acknowledged that he has big differences with Daley, who according to Dean has "been moving to the right over the last five to 10 years," but he said that Daley is "a grown-up who doesn’t treat people like they don’t know anything and you know everything."

Dean claims, however, that Daley will bring an “adult” mindset to the White House, a shot at the administration, saying that such a mindset hasn’t existed thus far, at least in the minds of the “professional left”(of which Howard Dean is a charter member).

It is fairly common for administrations to shuffle their staff after an electoral loss.  In the days of Bush, Rumsfeld was the big news, but other changes also happened.  That’s really not the point.   Watch the appointments carefully to try to discern how the administration is trying to set itself up for the next two years.  Hardliners or compromisers?  “Liberal” or, as Dean claims of William Daley, more to the “right” (I think that’s a very relative term in this case)? Etc.

What’s going to be interesting is to see who Obama names to take probably the most visible spot being vacated, that of Bagdad Bob Gibbs.  Like it or not the Press Secretary sets the tone for the administration and is its daily face.   I think more can be discerned from that pick than just about any other (other than at department secretary level).

Meanwhile it is useful to note Dean’s remarks only because they quickly tune you in to the feelings of the “professional left” on most subjects.  My guess he’s spot on in his condemnation of the staff leaving (as far as its dealing with the more liberal wing).  I’d further guess that the criticism won’t stop with the incoming staff either – none of them will ever be left enough for the Howard Dean/Firedoglakes of this world.

~McQ

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Gibbs lights a fire (update)

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.”

On healthcare:

“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).

Firedoglake:

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):

~McQ

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Really? An "oil recovery czar"?

This is the plan?

President Barack Obama, in his televised speech to the nation Tuesday, will announce the creation of an oil recovery “czar” to oversee progress in siphoning crude from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, his chief spokesman said.

Speaking on ABC television’s “Good Morning America” program, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the position is envisioned as “somebody that will be in charge of a recovery plan, putting a recovery plan together…when we get past the cleanup and response phase of this disaster.”

Well let’s see – we’ve had a commission appointed. We’ve seen the administration explore criminal charges against BP. And now, the administration that has been on top of this thing since “day one” is going to appoint “somebody that will be in charge of a recovery plan” and “putting a recovery plan together” 55 freakin’ days in to this!?

Now he’s going to put someone in charge and put a plan together?

Too bad we don’t have a method of voting “no confidence” in this country and calling for new elections. I think this guy would be gone in a New York minute.

~McQ

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Naive? Dumb? Or Just Doesn’t Understand How Taxes Work?

Jake Tapper, today, asking Presidential spokesperson Robert Gibbs about the bank tax:

TAPPER: On the fee for banks, without asking for any details, how can you guarantee that this, that this fee, tax, levy, whatever it ends up being, is not passed on to consumers and they take another hit when it comes to Wall Street?

GIBBS: Yeah, well, look, obviously, Jake we’ll have a chance to go through the structure of this. The economic team has worked for quite some time on a structure that will ensure that what taxpayers gave to banks to ensure their safety and security, in a time of crisis, is paid back in full. And I can assure you that is one of the things the economic team has taken into account in the structure.

Unless the “structure” plans to ensure bank fees aren’t raised in any other area to capture the money this “fee, tax, levy, whatever” from the banks, then of course banks are going to pass it on. If the “structure” is going to prevent such a raise in fees anywhere within the bank, then this isn’t a new tax, it’s a government takeover of the banks.

~McQ

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How Can Anyone Be This Clueless?

I‘m not sure, but Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs manages it very well:

“I will continue to say what I’ve said before. You hear in this debate, you hear analogies, you hear references to, you see pictures about and depictions of individuals that are truly stunning, and you hear it all the time. People — imagine five years ago somebody comparing health care reform to 9/11. Imagine just a few years ago had somebody walked around with images of Hitler.

Hopefully we can get back to a discussion about the issues that are important in this country that we can do so without being personally disagreeable and set up comparisons to things that were so insidious in our history that anybody in any profession or walk of life would be well advised to compare nothing to those atrocities.”

I’ll again point you to the pictorial compendium at Zomblog which covers protest signs from the past 8 years (yes Mr. Gibbs that includes 5 years ago) in which “somebody walked around with images of Hitler”. I have no idea where Gibbs was then, but he is truly representative of the “history began January 20, 2009″ crowd. Thin skinned and clueless will make for a tough 4 years.

Mary Kathrine Ham has more here to include a reminder of a recent invoking of the Holocaust by Democratic Representative Alan Grayson when talking about the GOP’s health care plan.

~McQ

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Obama Admin’s Messaging Confused

First we have hints by Obama that the public option isn’t critical to health care reform.

“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform,” Obama said at the town hall event in Colorado. “This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it. And by the way, it’s both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else.”

That’s followed up by Kathleen Sebelius, HHS Secretary, and Robert Gibbs, White House Press secretary, dropping the same sort of hint. First Sebelius:

Sebelius said that what the president sees as essential is to set up competition to private insurers in the healthcare system. But she said that doesn’t have to come from a public health insurance option.

“Well, I think there will be a competitor to private insurers,” she said on CNN. “That’s really the essential part, is you don’t turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition.”

Then Gibbs:

“What the president has said is in order to inject choice and competition. . . people ought to be able to have some competition in that market,” Gibbs said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Asked if he was hedging on support for a public plan, Gibbs said, “The president has thus far sided with the notion that that can best be done with a public option.”

Gibbs and Sebelius both leave their sentences unfinished – “but it doesn’t have to be the public option which introduces that competition”.

Like 1200 insurance companies wouldn’t compete in a real open market and not the rigged market the government has established – but that’s a post for another time.

You can’t help but draw the conclusion that the administration is backing away from support for the public option if their nebulous goal, “competition”, is still the final result of the bill.

That flies right in the face of the House’s liberal caucus, 77 liberal lawmakers who have said the public option is a must. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) told CNN on Sunday it would be “very difficult” for her and other liberals to support legislation that does not include a public option.

“The only way we can be sure that very low-income people and persons who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition,” she said.

Johnson added that House liberals have already told Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she should insist on White House support for a public option.

In fact, the liberal caucus has stated in the past that it won’t vote for a health care bill without a public option.

Then today:

An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “misspoke” when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option “is not an essential part” of reform. This official asked not to be identified in exchange for providing clarity about the intentions of the President. The official said that the White House did not intend to change its messaging and that Sebelius simply meant to echo the president, who has acknowledged that the public option is a tough sell in the Senate and is, at the same time, a must-pass for House Democrats, and is not, in the president’s view, the most important element of the reform package.

A second official, Linda Douglass, director of health reform communications for the administration, said that President Obama believed that a public option was the best way to reduce costs and promote competition among insurance companies, that he had not backed away from that belief, and that he still wanted to see a public option in the final bill.

“Nothing has changed.,” she said. “The President has always said that what is essential that health insurance reform lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes that the public option is the best way to achieve these goals.”

Confusion reigns. Any reasonable person listening to the president in Grand Junction might have taken his remarks to mean exactly what has been reported – that the public option isn’t critical to the final bill as long as something is in there to increase “competition”. That something, of course, could be the co-op plan (or the trigger plan) being pushed in the Senate.

I bring all this up to point out that what was considered a media savvy group during the election campaign seems to have either forgotten how to impose message discipline or, if that’s not the case, hasn’t yet realized that scrutiny of every word, phrase and nuance and the comparison of what is said by various players in the administration and Congress is standard operating procedure among the old and new media.

Their world changed in a way on January 20th that I still don’t think they quite understand. Then they were able to get away with glib nonsense and glittering generalities then. But now they’re forced to deal with warring factions (many times within their own party) who aren’t going to be satisfied with anything but specifics. Every word uttered is going to be analyzed and spun. And situations like this make the administration seem confused, defensive and not on top of their game. It also gives the public even less reason to feel confident about giving them the power over their health care for which they’re asking.

All in all, not a stellar performance by the administration thus far.

~McQ

An Example Of Why I Consider The Obama Administraion “Naive”

For once, Joe Biden was right – he prophesied that within 6 months of taking office Barack Obama would be tested on the world stage.

Well, we’re a bit early, but thus for his performance has been underwhelming as it pertains to Iran. Even Biden and Hillary Clinton want to see a stronger response.

Instead we got silence, then a mealy-mouthed response and recently a bit stronger but still using language that vaguely supports the Iranian regime.

Today the House and Senate passed resolutions concerning Iran.

The Senate version “”condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones.”

It seems the House version now sounds like the Senate version, because apparently the White House was not pleased with the original version of the House resolution (it was too strongly worded for their taste), and helped the House “tone down” the resolution.  Robert Gibbs then said the resolutions were consistent with the administration.

The reason?

“We made it clear that we didn’t want to make the U.S. a foil in a debate that has nothing to do with us,” a senior administration told me this morning. “This is a debate among Iranians.”

The dangerous naivete? The belief that a totalitarian regime that has made the US their “foil” for 30 years wouldn’t do it at the drop of a hat when there was trouble?

And guess what?  They have.

So the US has silenced itself based on the false presumption that Iran would only blame them for meddling if we said something.

Naive. Dangerous. And a sure way to loose any moral leverage in any future negotiations should the regime survive tomorrow.

~McQ

Hate To Say “I Told You So”

President Obama’s tapdancing attempt to avoid taking a stand on Iran has come to naught and made him look weak:

The Iranian government, meanwhile, accused the U.S. for the first time of interfering in the postelection dispute. Iran protested to the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. affairs in Iran because the two nations have no diplomatic ties. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Barack Obama stands by his defense of principles such as the right of people to demonstrate.

Even had Barack Obama maintained his silence, this was almost a given. Totalitarianism 101 – seek an external enemy to blame your problems on before you crack down hard internally (although the split in Qom among the mullahs is interesting and adds a new dimension to the story).

And I disagree with the talking heads that calling for free and fair elections is “meddling in the internal affairs of another state” such as Moorhead Kennedy was blathering on about on CNN this morning. That’s not meddling nor is it an attack on a state’s sovereignty – its a call for a state to actually do what they’re claiming they’re doing.

~McQ

Saul Alinsky, Barack Obama and George Orwell

Stephanie Gutmann brings up something I’ve noticed. She starts with an Orwell quote:

“The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor…All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies, perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured in some hiding place in Oceania itself.” 

1984 by George Orwell

She then says:

In the passage above, and throughout 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell illustrates how regimes with tentative hold over beleaguered populations deflect anger away from their own corruptions and mistakes with the deployment of a greatly embellished, even invented, external enemy.

There are many things that bug me about Barack Obama — the insane laundry list speeches, the silly rhetoric, the hostility to the free market — but these are all talked about. He has another habit that hasn’t been talked about so much and, of all the things he does, it makes me the most queasy.

It’s pretty subtle, but I think it’s worth keeping an eye on because, if it were to become full-blown, it has the potential to be the most socially damaging element of his presidency.

I’m talking about what I’m going to call his Goldstein-ism, his tendency to make veiled, dark allusions to a recently vanquished “other”, an evil being (he is never specific) who is, he always implies, the real cause of all our problems.

His references to his “inherited” problem, to bankers, greedy Wall Street and his “predecessor” are all too common, not to mention Limbaugh and Hannity.

So why this tendency to attempt to deflect criticism by blaming it on others? Well, consider the Obama march to the presidency. His entire campaign was based on how bad George Bush was and how necessary it was to replace him. Bush was Obama’s “Goldstein”. And Obama used Bush to deflect attention from his own paper thin resume and lack of experience. He managed to make Bush so bad that those things didn’t matter to most Americans who bought the characterization.

But Bush is gone now. And Obama has no specific “Goldstein” with whom he can shift blame and/or deflect attention. But Gutmann points out, he still tries to use Bush when possible. For example:

Monday was full of terrible economic news. It was another day of “unstoppable selling on Wall Street,” according to AP, a day in which Foreign Policy said ” the markets were sending an unambiguous signal that the U.S. economy is now headed in the wrong direction.” How did the administration respond?

I do not think it a coincidence that late in the day the administration “threw open the curtain on years of Bush-era secrets” as the ever in-the-tank Associated Press put it, with the release of memos “that claimed exceptional search-and-seizure powers…”

Soooo, what was in these scary-sounding memos? Midway down the article AP explains that the memos detailed possible legal rationale for tactics the Bush admin was considering using in its anti-terror program. You’d have to read further still to see that the “Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions.” Nevertheless, AP harrumphs, “the documents themselves [about stuff that had been discussed] had been closely held.” But who cares what the article actually said: It generated a nice headline — “Obama releases secret Bush anti-terror memos” — during a day the populace might have been thinking disloyal thoughts about the their president’s direction.

Of course this gets harder and harder for Obama to do, and besides, it’s unseemly if a president does it – that’s what minions are for. And as Bush fades, a new Goldstien is necessary. Enter Robert Gibbs, Rush Limbaugh, and others:

Jim Cramer. Rush Limbaugh. Rick Santelli.

What do they all have in common? Most likely, none of them is getting invited to the White House Christmas party.

All three media personalities have been singled out by President Obama’s press shop in the course of less than two weeks. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in doing so, has shown an unusual willingness to spar with cable and radio hosts who take shots at his boss.

The rebuttals have ranged from playful ribbing to disdainful scolding.

One of the things we didn’t see, for the most part, was these sorts of assaults on people who weren’t the political opposition during the Bush years. And, in fact, few assaults on those that were in the political opposition. Never once was Keith Olberman or a host of others called out from the White House Press Secretary’s podium. In fact, they were mostly, if not completely ignored. But obviously the same can’t be said of the Obama White House.

It’s personal.

So, you have to ask, “why”?

Try Rule 12 from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals“:

RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

As you recall, Mr. Bi-partisan, “heal the nation” Obama did have one thing on that thin resume – he was a community organizer from the Saul Alinsky school of organizing.

And as for the attacks coming from the White House Press podium? Rule 5 covers that:

RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

After watching the man for two plus years, I’ve come to realize this is more than a tendency, it’s his modus operandi. And one should assume his administration will reflect the bosses MO when dealing with criticism. The difference is Obama has himself under pretty tight control. I’m not so sure that can be said of some others. And that’s where Rule 6 comes in:

RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.

The danger with Rule 6 as it is now being executed gleefully by Gibbs (“There are very few days that I’ve had more fun,” Gibbs said.) is that he (and others) will overreach. They always do. And it certainly came as no surprise to me to find out Rahm Emanuel was involved in the Limbaugh attacks. So my prediction is this new and advanced “politics of personal destruction” campaign that this administration has embarked on will blow up in their face at some point.

But that doesn’t detract from Gutmann’s point about Obama’s tendency to need and rely on a “Goldstein”. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but it seems to indicate, at least to me, a deep-seated sense of insecurity. If I had no more experience than Obama has, I might be looking for such a scape-goat myself.  Knowing that, however, damn well doesn’t make me feel better about it though.  But we shouldn’t be surprised when a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer acts like a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer, should we?

~McQ