The White House’s Leftwing Punching Bag

Gibbs' attack was cynical, arrogant or both.

By Kai Wright Aug 10, 2010

As the House gathered to swallow yet another Senate refusal to help those most in need, the White House decided to spend the day bashing…progressives. It’d be shocking if it wasn’t already such a routine part of the Obama administration’s political playbook.

In a much discussed interview with The Hill, White House spin chief Robert Gibbs ripped into the "professional left" and its griping about the president:

"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."

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: "They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."

Gibbs has offered a sort-of apology via HuffPo. But since Gibbs is a professional spokesperson, we can assume he chose his original words intentionally.

We can assume that Gibbs deliberately went out of his way to demean Rep. Kucinich and the genuine ideals he stands up for–you know, not like those false, Beltway politics the president often tells us are so toxic? We can assume the White House would rather lash at the straw man of Kucinich than confront professional naysayer Sen. Ben Nelson, who has joined Republicans to pit starving families against teachers’ jobs. We can assume the White House agrees with the professional right that Obama’s public option equated with Canada’s health care system, since the left’s primary role in the health care debate was to vigorously support the White House’s compromise proposal.

Black and Latino unemployment remain in double digits and overall longterm joblessness is stuck at record levels. Yet, the Democratic majority can barely sustain unemployment benefits, let alone pass a serious jobs bill. Foreclosures continue to churn apace, but the White House has moved on to selling the idea of a recovery. And Canada’s health care system put to the side, reproductive rights for poor women in America continue to erode, with the White House’s help. It’s not clear what Kucinich or the "professional left" have to do with any of these realities, besides acknowledging their truths.

It is however pretty clear what conservatives inside the Democratic Party have to do with all of it. In debate after debate, a handful of professional gadflies in the Senate have made the difference between real reform and window dressing. Neither Gibbs nor anyone in the White House has been willing to take those nominal allies to task. No, they reserve their nastiest public attacks for the reform-minded movement that elected them. But then, this is the same White House that went out of its way to defend the Tea Party against charges of racism in its ranks. Rather than use populist and progressive discontent as leverage to move real reforms, the administrations works to squash it. 

Gibbs’ attack was either a cynical effort to distance the president from his base or an accidental revelation of the White House’s arrogance toward the people Obama initially inspired. If we are high on anything, as Gibbs posits, it’s the idea that real change is possible. And if the White House disagrees that, maybe we really ought to pump our millions of dollars worth of $25 contributions into Kucinich’s next run instead.