After Gibbs Flap, Debating Liberals' Frustration With Obama

The White House press secretary sticks his fist in a bees' nest

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In an interview with The Hill, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs aired some surprising remarks about far-left commentators. "I hear these people saying [President Obama is] like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said, dismissing liberal White House critics. "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality." Though Gibbs has since apologized, his words reverberated in the left-wing blogosphere, sparking discussion about liberal frustration during the Obama presidency. Many challenged Gibbs's assertion that liberals—as a whole—are even frustrated with Obama. Others explained the White House's perspective:

  • What Is Gibbs Thinking? asks liberal Ezra Klein at The Washington Post: "What I don't understand is why Robert Gibbs would voice that frustration to the press. His comments just turn this into a 'story,' giving the very professional lefties whose criticism is rankling the White House another high-profile opportunity to criticize the White House. Baffling."
  • Why Is the 'Professional Left' So Mad?  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains:
These voters are frustrated because, for all of the President's legislative successes, there haven't been moments of clear triumph or moments of emotional catharsis -- or, when there have been such moments, like when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before Congress in favor of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, they evaporate quickly. 

Instead, it seems at times as if all the promise of the Obama presidency has been stuck in the tar-pit of Washington. The sputtering economy looms over the entire political landscape. What rankles White House advisers is that Obama's critics question their motivation as much as their judgment. Motivation speculation becomes fact; predictions of doom become common wisdom.  And the traditional media, eager to be current, magnifies the meta-commentary of professional liberals. And that becomes the discussion.
  • His Remarks Were Uncalled For, adds Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress: "I have some sympathy with the substance of what Gibbs has to say here. But you don’t improve your relationship with same-team ideological activists by attacking them in red-baiting terms."
  • Understand the Viewpoint of the White House, writes Ben Smith at Politico: "Gibbs' dig is a reminder that at the heart of this White House is a belief that Obama is president despite the Democratic Party, not because of it."
  • Liberal Frustration Makes Sense, writes Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight: "The euphoric feeling among liberals in the days between the election and the inauguration seems so quaint now -- like something that happened decades ago -- but it was very tangible at the time. Conservatives, for their part, were willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, with his approval and favorability ratings sometimes soaring into the 70s... But Obama was never really able to capitalize on that momentum."
  • Actually, the Left Isn't Mad, writes David Weigel at Slate: "Who are the liberal commentators or activists who refuse to give the White House credit for its big progressive bills? Jane Hamsher, David Sirota, Ed Schultz, maybe the editors of The Progressive. Among all liberals, the White House has soaring, 85 percent, Chavez-when-oil-is-expensive popularity. So the fight being picked is with a noisy crowd that doesn't speak for the base. Seriously, now -- even MoveOn is going easy on the White House, edging away from anti-war activism and toward anti-corporate activism. That's quite a solid it's doing for Obama, whom its members endorsed in 2008 in large part over the war issue."
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