Have you ever seen an athlete stay in the game for too long (no intentional resemblance to any quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings) because they cannot imagine a world without the adulation and cheering? That’s about the only analogy I can make to the persistent carping inside the White House, now a definitive strategy and part of the President’s stump speech, telling the liberal base to “stop whining,” “get over it,” “wake up” and “get in gear.” Blue Texan has an more complete list, and contrasts it with messages that would work on him.

Before revealing the latest in this genre, I would just add that I’ve never seen a politician run an election with the message “Don’t be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me.” This goes orders of magnitude beyond “Here are the stakes, my opponent would vote against everything you care about. That at least has a certain time-tested quality. That would make the election a choice and not a referendum. But “vote for me, you simpletons”? There’s a reason that strategy has never been employed: because it’s so insane to think that open berating would inspire a voter to action.

Here’s President Obama talking to Rolling Stone. Let me set the scene here: the President just completed a long interview with Jann Wenner. He left the room. Then a minute later, concerned that the hippie may be left standing, he comes back in the room to deliver the knockout punch.

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we’ve got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what’s at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money’s coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.

If you’re serious, now’s exactly the time that people have to step up.

Where to begin? First: civil liberties? You want to go there? Seriously?

Second: the President is confusing a couple things. He thinks that people who don’t necessarily get enthusiastic over his brand of politics are “taking their ball and going home.” Well, no, maybe they just don’t think he can accomplish any of the goals they hold dear. Maybe they think he’s actively in the way of those goals.

Actually, nobody thinks any one thing. I’m not going to make the same mistake of the President in painting the whole base with the same broad brush. I just continue to marvel at the chutzpah of someone saying that inappropriate fealty to him equals something inexcusable or irresponsible. Really, dude? That’s your strategy? There are ways to lay out the stakes of an election in very stark terms – part of which Obama does here – without this tone of “I can’t stand you, now go vote for me.”

I think you’re seeing two years’ worth of friction spill out right before an election. Either that, or the White House has possession of some polling saying that browbeating works. One or the other.

UPDATE: An only slightly more measured critique, and defense by the President of his accomplishments, appears earlier in the article, here (scroll down to the third question).

UPDATE II: I think you should read this piece as the wind-up to his comment about civil liberties:

When people start being concerned about, “You haven’t closed Guantánamo yet,” I say, listen, that’s something I wanted to get done by now, and I haven’t gotten done because of recalcitrance from the other side. Frankly, it’s an easy issue to demagogue. But what I have been able to do is to ban torture. I have been able to make sure that our intelligence agencies and our military operate under a core set of principles and rules that are true to our traditions of due process. People will say, “I don’t know — you’ve got your Justice Department out there that’s still using the state-secrets doctrine to defend against some of these previous actions.” Well, I gave very specific instructions to the Department of Justice. What I’ve said is that we are not going to use a shroud of secrecy to excuse illegal behavior on our part. On the other hand, there are occasions where I’ve got to protect operatives in the field, their sources and their methods, because if those were revealed in open court, they could be subject to very great danger. There are going to be circumstances in which, yes, I can’t have every operation that we’re engaged in to deal with a very real terrorist threat published in Rolling Stone.

He seems to be making a distinction between the kind of blocking of inquiry of the Bush Administration’s actions that we saw in Jeppsen, and the ways in which state secrets gets used going forward. “We are not going to use a shroud of secrecy to excuse illegal behavior on our part.” I mean, there’s no way to verify that, right? If you seek to make an entire assassination program secret, who exactly knows what the behavior is being shielded? It comes down to a matter of trust, and civil libertarians really shouldn’t stand for that, because they ought to have a healthy skepticism, not just of the current occupant of the office, but its future residents. We don’t want to give the ability to kill American citizens without due process to a President who says he’s using it for good, because the next President may not adhere to such niceties.

David Dayen

David Dayen