August 10, 2010

shot-foot_94b19.jpgWell, this is just completely unhelpful, Robert Gibbs. Talking to The Hill carries its own risks. But having a hissy fit about the folks in your own coalition just misses the point entirely, especially on the day the House returns from its break for a vote on assistance to states for Medicaid, teachers and first responders.

Via The Hill:

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

Actually, what's crazy is dismissing their concerns by suggesting they're on drugs. There is absolutely nothing helpful, productive or true about that. Nothing whatsoever, particularly when it comes from the paid spokesman for the President.

And this:

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”

In a later mention, The Hill's Sam Youngman restated Gibbs' words this way:

He also said they would only be satisfied "if [Democratic Ohio Rep.] Dennis Kucinich was president."

Which is it, Youngman? There is an obvious and meaningful difference between the two statements. The first suggests that nothing will satisfy the left-sided critics; the second suggests that the type of progressivism Kucinich advances would be satisfactory. One of those quotes is right, and one is wrong. I'd like to know what Gibbs actually said, and whether we're getting accurate quotes on the rest of the story too.

Nate Silver remarks:

I don't know whether Gibbs was going "off-message" out of frustration, or whether the White House has become so jaded that they actually think this was a good strategy. Either way, it speaks to the need for some fresh blood and some fresh ideas in the White House. The famously unflappable Obama is losing his cool.

Whether Silver is right or not, his remarks give a sense of how incredulous all of us are -- whether center-left or further -- at Gibbs' petulance.

The firestorm started spreading at about 4:30 AM PDT. By 9:30 or so Gibbs had issued a statement admitting his statements were "inartful". The term "inartful" strikes me as a too-gentle term. Dumb, impulsive, intentionally inflammatory? Those all work. But inartful?

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stood by his comments to The Hill about the “professional left,” but did say they were “inartfully” put.

Gibbs became the target of liberal blogs Tuesday after The Hill published an interview with the White House press secretary, where he blasted the left.

In his statement on his interview with The Hill, Gibbs said Democrats "should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies, and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because we've come too far to turn back now."

Well, it would have been good for Gibbs to remember that ahead of his tirade. Also, maybe it would have been better if Gibbs had ranted at an ACTUAL member of the 'professional left' who at least can be trusted to report what he said accurately, as opposed to the half-quotes and intentionally inflammatory classifications invented by Youngman in his article.

I can understand his frustration. I've felt it myself. I've been frustrated that the Republicans seize and control the narrative too often while meaningful, if not perfect, progress is ignored entirely, or criticized to the point where any good it may do is lost in the din. But Gibbs is paid to communicate on behalf of the President, and this exercise in 'communication' was a self-indulgent, unhelpful, distracting gunshot in the foot of liberal efforts to build enthusiasm for the November elections.

Does anyone remember that the House reconvened today to help states pay for teachers, police, and firefighters today? Or that funds were appropriated for Medicaid assistance? Of course not, mostly because Robert Gibbs chose to indulge himself in a disrespectful rant full of the drama the White House claims to hate.

(One note on the term 'professional left'. A thorough read of Youngman's piece suggests the term was not Gibbs'. I point specifically to Youngman's characterization of Netroots Nation as a gathering of the 'professional left' -- a characterization purely from the author's standpoint with no attribution whatsoever to Gibbs.)

Other reactions:


Furthermore, that slippage is likely a primary drive of the intensity gap that threatens to kill Dems this November.

The percentage of registered voters "very enthusiastic" about voting this November fell to 31% for July 26-Aug. 1 from 34% during the July 19-25 period. However, the decline was steeper among Democrats. Their latest 22% "very enthusiastic" figure is the lowest seen thus far in 2010, whereas the Republicans' 44% matches their average for the year.

That intensity gap is among rank-and-file Democrats, not among bloggers or Dylan Ratigan or Ed Schultz or Jane Hamsher or whoever.

If the White House thinks their problems are reserved among a handful of progressive critics, then I'm afraid, because it tells me they're really out of touch with the undercurrent of discontent faced by Democrats this year.

Jason Linkins at Huffpost:

In these cases, the "professional left" has committed no crime other than having a factual basis for their complaint and the willingness to point this out in public. Now, there have been times when the "professional left" has lost sight over the fact that President Obama does not have magical powers that allow him to supercede Congress, the filibuster, and the idiotic political maneuvers of Senator Ben Nelson. Nevertheless, there are other members of the "professional left" -- like Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein -- who are willing to point this out, again and again. That is largely a debate the "professional left" is having with itself, continuing to this day in the remarks of Adam Green, of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:

I would only add that I agree with both of them, but believe they underestimate their reach and influence, especially when combined with groups like PCCC and DFA, among others.

Rep. Keith Ellison is calling for Gibbs' resignation:

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), an active member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Gibbs went too far. "This is not the first time that Mr. Gibbs has made untoward and inflammatory comments and I certainly hope that people in the White House don't share his view that the left is unimportant to the president," he said. "I understand him having some loyalty to the president who employs him, but I think he's walking over the line."

Ellison said that Gibbs's resignation would be an appropriate response. "I think that'd be fair, yeah. That'd be fair, because this isn't the first time. And, again, people of all political shades worked very hard to help the president become the president. Why would he want to go out and deliberately insult the president's base? And why would he confuse legitimate critique with some sort of lack of loyalty. Isn't this what the far right does? Punishes people who are not ideologically aligned with President Bush?"

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