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Biden's fine whine

Joe Biden was trying to fire up his base.

And he succeeded--although not in the way he intended.

The vice president knows that Democratic apathy could turn a Republican wave into a tsunami on Nov. 2. So he's been exhorting the so-called base to close ranks, get fired up, stop whining and fight the GOP.

Ruh-roh.

Turns out liberal activists and pundits don't particularly like being dubbed whiners.

Lawrence O'Donnell gave the veep a chance to walk it back, on his MSNBC show, by asking if Biden wanted to "revise and extend" his remarks. Biden simply substituted the more neutral call for the administration's supporters to "buck up."

There's a larger issue here than Biden dropping the W-word. Many folks on the left have real, substantive disagreements with much of what Obama has done, or left undone. That doesn't vanish with some preelection cheerleading.

Biden is trying to make the case that the midterms are not just about the president's performance (and that of congressional Democrats) but about the alternative: Sure, you may not be thrilled with us, but think about life under Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell.

But language matters in politics, as we can see from the reaction, starting with Salon Editor Joan Walsh:

"Now, I'm trying hard not to have a knee-jerk response to Biden's dig. After attacks on the 'professional left' and the '[blanking] retarded' progressives trying to run primary campaigns against Blue Dogs, and Obama's own plea last week to "griping and groaning Democrats... It's true that the healthcare and financial reform bills were the most ambitious, far-reaching social legislation since the Great Society. You add in the $787 billion stimulus package, and it seems like a trifecta of social change that should have progressives ecstatic - especially when you consider that the right considers all of that legislation proof that Obama is a socialist.

"Of course the problem is that all three of those accomplishments were the product of ugly, maybe even uglier-than-usual compromise, the first two with financial and insurance titans who caused the problems the bills were supposed to solve. The third, the stimulus, was crafted to win over Republicans, which made it a much less effective package than it needed to be - and then they still overwhelmingly voted against it...

"Maybe Biden will come out tomorrow and say his 'stop whining' order was another one of his loveable gaffes, and apologize. But probably not. Every administration insult to the base has been followed not by an apology, but by a doubling down on the criticism. I am on record chiding the left for being unrealistic about expectations and failing to realize that changing the country is more than a two-to-four year endeavor. But the administration's persistent impulse to insult the most loyal Democrats suggests they don't know how to organize for the long haul, either."

Clearly, this didn't start with the whining comment.

Liberal blogger Taylor Marsh has a laundry list:
"I'd suggest the Obama White House try a little humility, especially considering movement progressives were right about health care, the stimulus, tax cuts, DADT, Afghanistan, but also since the latest anti privacy move is basically what any Republican would do, but Mr. Obama doesn't do humble.

"It speaks volumes that Democrats don't get the reason the base is unengaged is because, contrary to what Joe Biden has been saying, along with Robert Gibbs and even Pres. Obama, promises have not been kept.

"Remember Obama on health care for everyone?

"Remember Obama on Gitmo?

"Remember Obama railing against Bush about civil liberties?"

She goes on. And on.

On the right, Hot Air's Allahpundit is enjoying the bickering:

"The One's been throwing himself a big pity party lately because liberals don't appreciate him but neglects to mention the comic pathos of last week's nutroots conference call with David Axelrod. And what about Gibbs's shot heard 'round the world in unloading on the 'professional left,' or Rahm's infamous salute to liberals who wanted ObamaCare to be even more statist? At this point there's no one in the inner circle except, I guess, Valerie Jarrett who hasn't grumbled publicly about the lefty base, which amazes me in light of all the anger at the moment among conservatives directed at establishment Republicans like Rove and Krauthammer for lesser sins. Can you imagine the reaction on the right if, say, President Romney's team was endlessly whining about how unappreciated they felt by the Republican base?...

"As much as I enjoy this hot internecine blue-on-blue action, I can't blame rank-and-file lefties for being annoyed with Team Barry. If anything, their reaction thus far has been remarkably subdued."

In a related column, National Review Editor Rich Lowry sees a pattern in a certain political party blaming the voters:

"Whatever else you think of Democrats, they are lousy amateur sociologists and political scientists. Whenever the public rejects them, it's a 'temper tantrum,' in late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings's term for the 1994 electoral rout. Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has teed up that tried-and-true explanation for this fall: 'The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.'

"Obama has his own theory of voter irrationality. In his view, if only economic conditions were stronger, reasonable people would be Obama-supporting secularists with liberal mores. During the 2008 primaries, he infamously explained that people in rural areas who weren't supporting him were clinging to guns and religion because of the poor economy. He has attributed misgivings about Islam to economic anxieties. It's the all-purpose explanation for any public sentiment that discomfits liberals.

"Not far behind is the plaint that 'the system' is broken so people are understandably frustrated by the 'pace of change.' The New Republic profiles 'disillusioned' Obama adviser David Axelrod and explains that he's despairing over a 'ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system.' This is the same system through which Democrats forced a historic $800 billion stimulus bill, a historic health-care law and a historic financial-regulation bill -- as well as lesser stimuli and government takeovers."

Blaming the ill-informed voters--or the paralyzed system--basically doesn't work. People want results, and they don't want to hear a bunch of, ah, whining, about how difficult governing is.

Footnote: Obama, using safer language, tells Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner: "It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election...People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up."

By Howard Kurtz  | September 28, 2010; 12:50 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories, Top story  | Tags:  Biden, Obama, White House, blaming the left, buck up, professional left, stop whining  
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Next: Obama's multiple messages

Comments

Seems the heavy lifting over at foggy bottom has gotten to the team.
Consider all they've accomplished, and all they've attempted, and all they've had to endure from their critics, and it's a wonder they're able to stay reasonably on message at all.
I think the voters that matter will be forgiving, and the ones that don't aren't paying attention to arcana such as this...

Posted by: thanksforfish | September 28, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Liberals are Major Whiners. In addition, the name-calling, ridicule and hate language makes them appear ignorant.
The truth is, there are major philosophical differences between Obama/liberal "Redistribute the Wealth/Welfare" agenda.. and the conservative principles of Fiscal responsibility, Less Taxes, Less Government, Free Markets.
Many people who thought they were liberal are now realizing they Actually conservative on the major issues.

Posted by: ohioan | September 28, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the Major Whiners should stop name-calling at once. It's beneath them.

Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | September 28, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Ohioan and ComfortablyDumb, your hyprocrisy weakens your arguments, i.e. including insults and name-calling in your posts complaining about people who you say are name callers and "Major Whiners". Stay classy and keep up the civic discourse! Make America proud!

Posted by: Doug_Baker | September 29, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

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