Gibbs Reflects on 'Inartful' Comments

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's frustrated ventilation against the "professional left," delivered in an interview with the Hill's Sam Youngman, provoked predictable outrage against the slighted few, who've taken to Twitter and their columns to counter-ventilate.

Gibbs defines the professional left as the cohort of full-time web-enabled liberal bloggers who spend their days providing meta-commentary on the political scene.

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

The press secretary dismissed the "professional left" in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality."

As Youngman notes, the White House is bewildered by the volume and acuity of friendly fire, believing that much of the criticism results from unrealistic expectations and a lack of historical perspective.

"I watch too much cable, I admit," Gibbs said. "Day after day it gets frustrating. Yesterday I watched as someone called legislation to prevent teacher layoffs a bailout -- but I know that's not a view held by many, nor were the views I was frustrated about." He continued:

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.

Obama remains popular with self-identified Democrats and liberals, although he is polling about 10 percentage points lower among both of those groups than he should be.

The idea that Obama is like Bush rests on the following argument: he's escalating the war in Afghanistan (fulfilling a campaign promise), has failed to close Gitmo (more the fault of Congress than the White House), has vigorously prosecuted novel and potentially extra-legal counter-terrorism campaigns overseas, and has fleshed out assertions of executive power by the previous administration.

Also: the administration's decision not to fight to add a public option to the health care reform bill, not to fight for progressive nominees like Dawn Johnsen, who was tapped to head an important Justice Department office, its refusal to fully confront the forces of obstruction, be they Fox News's editorial meetings or the Kulturkampf of Washington itself, and the administration's seeming obeisance to bankers and  to corporatist Democrats.

The White House disputes all of these points, but the "professional liberals" often serve as guides, or curators, for the frustrations for unprofessional liberals -- regular liberals. To the extent that their frustration with Obama seeps downhill, the White House is within its rights to be anxious and even angry.

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.

I don't know if regular Democrats will take Gibbs's comments as an attack on them. The wisdom of attacking these folks in an election year when Democrats aren't as enthusiastic as Republicans is questionable. To keep control of Congress, Democrats need voters to believe that Obama's agenda, Obama's promise, is worth fighting for.

"November is about a choice -- do we continue to drive this forward or go backward -- Democrats can be proud of what we've done because we did what we said we'd do," Gibbs said. "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."