Flashback: Obama, White House repeatedly said they value pressure from left
Here's something else that's problematic about Robert Gibbs' attack on the "professional left": It directly contradicts previous claims by the White House and the President himself that they value ongoing pressure on them from liberals.
Back when anonymous White House sources leaked that they view bloggers as part of a "left fringe," senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer cleaned things up by emailing me a statement asserting that the White House sees the online left as invaluable, because it keeps the focus on what really matters:
"That sentiment does not reflect White House thinking at all, we've held easily a dozen calls with the progressive online community because we believe the online communities can often keep the focus on how policy will affect the American people rather than just the political back-and-forth."
What's more, the President himself has repeatedly said he wants criticism to continue during his presidency. Glenn Greenwald unearths this from September of 2008:
As president, I will lead a new era of accountability in education. But see, I don't just want to hold our teachers accountable; I want to hold our government accountable. I want you to hold me accountable.
And there's this from an Obama diary in 2005:
"In that spirit, let me end by saying I don't pretend to have all the answers to the challenges we face, and I look forward to periodic conversations with all of you in the months and years to come. I trust that you will continue to let me and other Democrats know when you believe we are screwing up. And I, in turn, will always try and show you the respect and candor one owes his friends and allies."
I think this all reflects the degree to which the White House is genuinely conflicted towards the left. In theory, Obama almost surely believes that pressure from his left is useful. He probably hews to the spirit of the famous FDR line: "Now go out and make me do it."
But in the real world, getting hit with criticism from the left on a regular basis has to be frustrating. White House advisers, having been on the inside of negotiations with conservative Democrats and Republicans over health care, the stimulus, and Wall Street reform, would insist that they have a more realistic view of what's genuinely possible amid today's political realities. They would also argue that lefty criticism risks depressing the base's enthusiasm heading into the midterms, conceivably returning one or both houses of Congress to GOP control.
Surely White House advisers want to scream at the left: You think the current situation is lacking, well, wait until you see the wreckage that ensues when Republicans control the House or even the Senate!
There's some validity to the White House's point: Sometimes the criticism is excessive and counterproductive. But in a general sense, the left should continue pressuring the White House and Dem leaders to live up to ideals -- in order to press Dems to take a risk and try to expand the realm of what's politically possible. If the White House wants to argue that they've pushed the boundaries of the possible to their outermost points, and that the left's criticism is counterproductive, fine. But surely it makes more sense to do that without urinating on the heads of allies, even if those allies are not always reliable.
Dumping on the left makes the White House look like they're playing a too-cute-by-half trangulation game, casts doubt on the sincerity of previous outreach efforts, and only sets back the general cause further.
August 10, 2010; 11:21 AM ET
Categories: Political media
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