Tribalism is the Last Refuge of Political Scoundrels, Including Robert Gibbs
Spiro Agnew — sorry, Robert Gibbs — says “the professional left is not representative of the progressives who organized, campaigned, raised money and ultimately voted for Obama.” Well, the Obama in the White House is not representative of the Obama who organized, campaigned, raised money and ran for office, so I guess it’s a wash.
Gibbs does the only thing you can do when trying to defend a record of corporatist capitulation: triangulate against your critics as extremists. But the fact is, the positions Obama has abandoned aren’t the exclusive territory of Dennis Kucinich. Standing up to the banks and the insurance companies, reducing the political influence of corporate money, defending Social Security and ending the wars are issues that are broadly popular with the American public. That’s why Obama campaigned on them in order to pave his way to the White House.
I don’t recall Obama making campaign promises to increase the defense budget and cut Social Security benefits, order the assassination of American citizens without due process, or cut sweetheart deals with the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for political patronage. Where was the bold, inspirational speech where he vowed to give AT&T immunity for operating their own private corporate spy network, tax people’s health insurance benefits, abandon gay rights and throw a party in the rose garden for Bart Stupak’s presidential signing statement? When did he promise to re-appoint Ben Bernanke, protect the bonuses of bailed out bankers and keep shoveling money at Wall Street?
Marshall Ganz was the field organizer responsible for Obama campaign programs that motivated those progressive volunteers. During the health care debate, when it was clear Obama was abandoning his campaign rhetoric on health care, he said “If Barack had campaigned on the politics of narrow self-interest, he never would have won the nomination, let alone the election.”
Maybe Gibbs should stop and revisit some of those campaign speeches and ask himself if the guy in the oval office looks like the guy on the campaign trail. He might figure out why people are upset, and it’s not just the “professional left.” According to Gallup, Obama’s approval ratings among Hispanics was 73% in January of 2010 and is now at 54%. That’s largely over his failure to fulfill the promises he made about immigration.
Are they the “professional left” too?
Gibbs’ slam on progressives just as the August break begins means that Congressional Democrats across the country are going to have to bear the brunt of his comments as they try to whip up enthusiasm for their campaigns. They’re going to have to explain why they deserve support even as the White House holds progressives in contempt. Progressives are the people who volunteer, who donate, who vote, and the polls show a serious enthusiasm gap. Members of Congress are already angry that the president blames “Washington DC” for the country’s ills, and that’s a group that includes them. Pissing off the base like this isn’t going to help — it’s a self-indulgent, petty and ill-timed move.
But more than that, it demonstrates that the spokesman for the White House has no better defense of the administration than to try and brand their big, omnibus corporate-friendly legislation as “progressive,” and then point to a couple of female appointments. It’s hard to see how victories for PhRMA, Aetna, Halliburton and JP Morgan are victories for the American people. And if diversity at the top is the definition of “progress” we’re using, Condi Rice had a lot more power and access to the President than any woman does in this administration. Just ask Christina Romer.
Gibbs echoes the oft-heard refrain that George Bush left such a mess, and people expect too much change too fast. But if Obama were actually fighting for the change he promised and losing because of overwhelming opposition, the “progressives” Gibbs is whining about would be behind him 100%. The problem is not that he’s fighting corporate America and losing. The problem is that all too often, it’s obvious that he’s fighting for the other side.