Why Gibbs is Right about the "Professional Left"

Today, Ezra Klein has a blog post up in which he expresses understanding why the White House is frustrated with what press secretary Gibbs calls the "professional left" (and I call the authoritarian left ideologues).  What he doesn't understand, Ezra says, is the fact that Gibbs is running to the press to vent about it.  After all, by doing so, Gibbs just made it a story.

The professional left put out plenty of responses.  What they managed not to tell you though, is that Ezra Klein confirms Gibb's point that the nitpicking-on-Obama-from-the-left phenomenon is in fact a beltway phenomenon.
Meanwhile, it's worth noting that this is largely a Beltway phenomenon: According to Gallup, Obama is at 81 percent among self-described Democrats and 76 percent among self-described liberals.[...]

In fact, as the graph below shows (click on it for a larger version), his approval trends among Democrats, independents and the country mirror Ronald Reagan's ratings among Republicans, independents and the country almost exactly.


What's more, Gallup may have indeed been underestimating the President's support among liberals. Public Policy Polling will release a poll later this week showing the President's approval rating at a steady 85% with liberals, with only 12% disapproval.

I think Gibbs is absolutely right to fight back.  As I pointed out in Ezra's post's comments section, why wouldn't Gibbs do this?  It's not as though this beltway "professional left" ideologues ever give up a chance to hammer at the White House - including (and especially) when it's without basis. Last week alone, one such ideologue David Sirota wrote, fly-by articles attacking the President for being "confrontational" with "the Left" and another one bashing the President for a $10 million USAID program to help civil war and tsunami ravaged Sri Lanka. I wrote rebuttals for both:
Progressives should be proud of this President's progressive achievements from health reform to the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes law to financial reform to credit card reform to student loan reform to the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (fuller list here). Instead the armchair activists on the beltway professional left spend their time picking fights with this president rather than with the Republicans. I don't blame the White House for being frustrated with people who seem to almost be giddy about the prospect of Democratic losses in November in order to "teach Obama a lesson."

I want to be clear about something: the division is not being caused by the White House; it is being driven by professional "left" pundits seemingly interested in gaining notoriety. The idea that the President has to lie there and take these unfounded attacks without hitting back just because they happen to be from people claiming the Left is preposterous.  Those who are ostensibly on our side arguably do us more harm by making unfair attacks - if only because substance-devoid attacks on a Democratic president is to be expected of the right.

Another thing to understand here is that this isn't about one attack.  Rachel Maddow is held near and dear to many of our hearts - including mine - and I even agree with her about describing David Axelrod's response on the President's positions on gay marriage (which he is against) vs that on Proposition 8 (which banned gay marriage, which the President was also against) as a "human pretzel" (nonetheless, it doesn't mean that Axelrod is factually inaccurate).

I understand the need to put the White House in a bad light by mentioning that as part of Gibb's frustration.  But there are two things about that: first, It was the Hill, not Gibbs, that wrote about that as an example of the left's criticism of Obama.  There is no indication that Gibbs even mentioned it. And second, as I said, this isn't about one particular criticism.  Gibb's comments were about the barrage of criticism that is largely devoid of reality.  After all, it was Rachel Maddow herself that reminded us about how much the President has achieved:

The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal.
That, by the way, was Rachel's quote.  So regardless of how much some may wish to paint this as the White House going after Rachel Maddow, that isn't what's happening at all.  Gibbs is frustrated at the criticism devoid of reality, and Rachel has had both praise and criticism of the administration, but both generally based on reality.  I - and I suspect the White House - am not opposed to all criticism; to paraphrase candidate Obama, I'm opposed to dumb criticism.

Yes, I understand that the White House is supposed to lead, and I believe it is, but the punditocracy that claims the left side of the political spectrum at least has a responsibility to think of the greater good (after all, isn't that what being a liberal is about?) and in the lead up to the election, work to keep Congress in Democratic hands.  Many of them fancy themselves leaders.  Well, what leadership are they providing?  To me, it seems like they are more interested in blaming Obama for the electoral prospects of Democrats than in improving those odds.

No, this doesn't mean they need to stop all criticism, and everyone thinking about using that attack line knows better.  But this is crunch time.  Will we choose to lament and cry about things not being good enough for the ideologues' taste, or are we going to defend - as Rachel Maddow did - an activist government with progressive achievements and fight like hell to keep going?  Our choice may determine the course of history.

Update: Gibbs clarifies, issues call for unity: In a subsequent statement, Gibbs issued a friendly challenge to all on the left to come together and highlighted this President's progressive achievements:

So what I may have said inartfully, let me say this way -- since coming to office in January 2009, this White House and Congress have worked tirelessly to put our country back on the right path. Most importantly, to dig our way out of a huge recession and build an economy that makes America more competitive and our middle class more secure. Some are frustrated that the change we want hasn't come fast enough for many Americans. That we all understand.

But in 17 months, we have seen Wall Street reform, historic health care reform, fair pay for women, a recovery act that pulled us back from a depression and got our economy moving again, record investments in clean energy that are creating jobs, student loan reforms so families can afford college, a weapons system canceled that the Pentagon didn't want, reset our relationship with the world and negotiated a nuclear weapons treaty that gets us closer to a world without fear of these weapons, just to name a few. And at the end of this month, 90,000 troops will have left Iraq and our combat mission will come to an end.

Even so, we will continue to work each day on the promises and commitments that the President made traveling all over this country for two years and produce the change we know is possible.

In November, America will get to choose between going back to the failed policies that got us into this mess, or moving forward with the policies that are leading us out.

So we 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.
Can those on the professional left who have derided Gibbs' earlier comments for the sake of unity accept this challenge? Time will tell, but I am not holding my breath.

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