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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.

By Greg Sargent  |  August 10, 2010; 11:21 AM ET
Categories:  Political media  
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Next: Robert Gibbs concedes attack on left was "inartful"


Obama = Bush is just stupid. Gibbs wasn't saying that they want no criticism from the left. BTW I like Gibbs, he does a very difficult job extremely well.

Posted by: jandmward | August 10, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I would imagine they were erroneously thinking that folks on "the left" would offer constructive criticism versus poutrage like:

Obama = Bush
I want my pony (vote against healthcare because it doesn't have a public option)
Obama hasn't done anything good.
Obama is a corporate tool.
Obama is a coward
Obama is a sellout.
Obama hates gay people.
Obama shouldn't personally be opposed to gay marriage.
Obama is "being “mean” to her husband by deserting him on his birthday for a girls’ getaway to Spain". That's Michelle Obama, my bad.

And how come folks on the left don't call out Congress (Dems and Rethugs) like they do the President? You know, the people who actually make the laws.

Gibbs is on point AFAIC. But then again, I'm one of the Blacks who only support Obama because he is "The Black".

I guess this is what they're using to get attention from FLOTUS' budget busting trip to Spain. It's working.

Posted by: itsme2 | August 10, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I think it's a mistake to get bogged down in trying to assess what Obama "really" wants or means. He's a politician like any other. He said what he said back then becuase that seemed like a politically advantageous thing to do, and Gibbs said what he said now because *that* seemed like a politically advantageous thing to do. There may be some value intrying to parse out why each statement was valuable when it was, but neither of them have any "real" meaning.

Similarly, there's no "general cause." The White House has its interests, and activists have theirs. Sometimes they intersect, and sometimes they don't.

None of this is intended as a slam on Obama. These traits are universal among politicians.

Posted by: tomtildrum | August 10, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I agree with jandmward. This isn't a zero-sum game. You can appreciate constructive critique while also being angry when the same folks refuse to acknowledge accomplishments. I don't see anything problematic with that. In fact, I think it is common sense that agreeable people who agree on many issues may still disagree on others. Par for the course.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | August 10, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think many on the left are getting worked up over this because part of what Gibbs said is true and the growing narrativeis that it's true.

When they say Obama is like Bush, for example. I mean give me a break.

"It directly contradicts previous claims by the White House and the President himself that they value ongoing pressure on them from liberals."

They value valuable pressure. Not comparisons to Bush. Not when some on the left would rather get nothing than a compromised bill.

Even after almost 2 years, those on the left still think Obama is this liberal politician who is being pulled to the middle and forcing himself to compromise. As someone who know of Barack Obama before the rest of the country and world did (I live in Illinois) -- this was never the case and never will be the case.

Posted by: Quick2822 | August 10, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

As a long term democrat I am insulted at the administrations idea that the cable progressives are too harsh on them and those of us out here in american don't feel that way. Note to the Obama administration: YES WE DO!

The administration should get their heads out of their white house offices and come out here and start listening again. This garbage of giving away the farm when we have a majority in both houses is maddening. It makes them look weak.

Show us you are willing to fight for what we believe in. I will give you an easy one. Obama is the only one who has the power to nominate Elizabeth Warren. Why doesn't he do it? There will be no excuse for not doing so and it will be the last straw if he doesn't.

Posted by: sandnsmith | August 10, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Hold me accountable is completely different from some of the Obama = Bush II comments out there. Those comments (and there are many of the like over at FireDogLake, for example) that do a disservice to both the Left and anyone trying to hold the President accountable. Those are the people to whom Gibbs seemed to be referring.

Posted by: OKeefePup | August 10, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse


"There's some validity to the White House's point: Sometimes the criticism is excessive and counterproductive."

This has been, and will continue to be, my beef with the left as well. Constructive criticism is fine...but a LOT of what we see coming from the left is unproductive, destructive, and flat out whiny "poutrage". That, combined with a complete lack of credit the WH gets for their very real accomplishments they've gotten, I'm not surprised to see their frustration.

But frustration is rarely artful or illistrates confidence.

The biggest thing people forget about the campaign, was that all that poetry was about the public coming together and working for change. This fact is totally lost in the left's complaints. Instead of trying to organize and build public support "from the ground up" they are all focused on the "top down" approach of just getting the President to take up their cause and do it for them.

That's the real shame of the left in all of this. The principals they claim Obama's lost, they've lost themselves. Instead of spending all their time and energy on the WH...they should be spending it on grassroots organization and changing the minds of voters directly.

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | August 10, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Obama, Pelosi and Reid must go...

How in the world do they get off spending even MORE money?

They should be spending this precious time closing down the inefficient and bloated bureaucracies.

And then put a moratorium on PAYROLL TAXES... give our money back to us... we know better than any of them how to get this economy going again.

All they do is WASTE our money... ALL incumbents are just a BUNCH of Crooks.

This November, will throw most of them out... and we will finish the job in 2012.

Time to STOP the insanity1

Posted by: btrask3 | August 10, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Maybe I'll believe Obama doesn't actually embrace the professional left when he reduces the number of man hugs with union leaders.

More dog and pony from the Obama administration. Maybe liberals can start screaming racism at each other like they do to everyone else when they can't win an argument.

Posted by: Cryos | August 10, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Cryos if you are approaching this from the right I do not have to call you a racist to win an argument. You side has history against's called the Great Depression and the Great Bush Recession. Nothing racial at all. Your side invaded a sovereign nation just because we are the most powerful nation in the world and can get away with it...which by the way was an absolute goal of Osama Bin Ladin with 9/11.
Way to go bushies you gave Osama EXACTLY what he was hoping to achieve with the invasion of Iraq.

No Cryos I wouldn't have to call you racist because all of your policies are failures...check the history books.

However if you send a picture of Obama as a Witch Doctor or the W.H. with a Watermelon patch through and email then Cryos you are a racist.

Posted by: rukidding7 | August 10, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Obama has a history of saying things and then claiming that he didn't say them (even though there is proof).

Posted by: solsticebelle | August 10, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: rukidding7 | August 10, 2010 2:47 PM
You need to check the history books.

All your "progressive" ideas have been tried again and again and again and again throughout history and ALWAYS fail. Keynesian economics and a largely socialist society simply don't work. You are no smarter than the legions who failed before you.

Human nature is that a majority of people will only work hard enough to be comfortable or survive. Hence if you make doing nothing attractive enough that's what most will do.

But I guess it makes you feel warm and fuzzy that you can be an utter failure with no consequences.

Posted by: Cryos | August 10, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Wow, more spending, raise taxes, Union payoffs, kickbacks to States, when does Obama stop? Obama has given America broken promises, bribes, backroom deals, payoffs, election fixing? America does not want this Chicago mob style politics, impeachment is the only answer, Obama is a CORRUPT-O-CRAT.....

Posted by: Richie5 | August 10, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Re: "Obama, White House repeatedly said they value pressure from left"

This is a lot different from asking the the so-called progressives or "professional left" who are suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome who use every opportunity they can and then some to trash him.

These are the professional left that get over the fact that Hillary Clinton is not President. They still fighting Hillary's lost election and those who have a platform use their platforms to trash the President.

They are not interested in offering the President anything constructive. They are not interested in any progressive or liberal legislation from this administration. This not what they are after. Their goal is to help bring down President Obama to "prove" that Hillary Clinton or Dennis Kucinich should have been president. Just like the republicans and many in what passes for the media (not just Fox) they are ticked off that President Obama has accomplished something.

They just can't bring themselves to talk about anything good the President has done.

Posted by: Sammy2 | August 11, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

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