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Robert Gibbs Clarifies "Professional Left" Criticism, Calls Initial Comments Inartful

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In a statement to the Huffington Post, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that his recent broadside against the "professional left" was inartful, and called for renewed unity among the Democratic community.

Referring to statements he made in an interview with The Hill published Tuesday, Gibbs reiterated his belief (which served as the basis of his initial remarks) that the president had achieved a host of legislative accomplishments for which he was not getting proper credit. But he said that Democrats, "me included," need to "stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies, and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because we've come too far to turn back now."

"I watch too much cable, I admit," Gibbs told the Huffington Post. "Day after day it gets frustrating. Yesterday I watched as someone called legislation to prevent teacher layoffs a bailout - but I know that's not a view held by many, nor were the views I was frustrated about."

He continued:

So what I may have said inartfully, let me say this way -- since coming to office in January 2009, this White House and Congress have worked tirelessly to put our country back on the right path. Most importantly, to dig our way out of a huge recession and build an economy that makes America more competitive and our middle class more secure. Some are frustrated that the change we want hasn't come fast enough for many Americans. That we all understand.

But in 17 months, we have seen Wall Street reform, historic health care reform, fair pay for women, a recovery act that pulled us back from a depression and got our economy moving again, record investments in clean energy that are creating jobs, student loan reforms so families can afford college, a weapons system canceled that the Pentagon didn't want, reset our relationship with the world and negotiated a nuclear weapons treaty that gets us closer to a world without fear of these weapons, just to name a few. And at the end of this month, 90,000 troops will have left Iraq and our combat mission will come to an end.

Even so, we will continue to work each day on the promises and commitments that the President made traveling all over this country for two years and produce the change we know is possible.

In November, America will get to choose between going back to the failed policies that got us into this mess, or moving forward with the policies that are leading us out.

So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies, and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because we've come too far to turn back now.

The lengthy statement comes hours after Gibbs' interview with The Hill, in which he mocked liberal affection for Canada's healthcare system and suggested that progressives wanted to eliminate the Pentagon.

There were various theories about why Gibbs initially ridiculed the president's progressive detractors. One Republican strategist suggested that the White House, in an effort to diffuse the notion that it is chock-full of socialist schemers, was eager to project distance between itself and its base. A Democratic strategist aligned with the administration echoed Gibbs' remarks, arguing, "A vocal part of our base doesn't understand the legislative process and thinks we should govern by dictate. That's not how even a reformed version of Washington works. We have passed the most progressive legislation in a generation, a large portion of what we campaigned on, and the fact that that is not enough to motivate them or change their tune is a real drain on our party and a threat to our electoral prospects."

The vast majority of the reaction, however, was sharply negative.

"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" emailed Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake.com. " Well, the Obama in the White House is not the Obama who organized, campaigned, raised money and ran for office, so I guess its' a wash."

"There are two big problems with Gibbs outburst - policy and politics," added Robert Borosage, head of Campaign for America's Future. "In policy, the left got it right. The president is hurting because his reforms were not bold enough... On politics, the enthusiasm gap comes less from forced compromises than from political malpractice. The destructive health care waltz with Baucus and the supposed moderate Republicans... the White House's infatuation with taxing union health care benefits; the White House's unwillingness from day one to pound on the failed conservative policies that drove us off the cliff... Part of that malpractice, arguably, was on the left as well - as significant energy was devoted to the sausage making of the Congress, and too little resources and energy went towards independent mobilization. There was and is no reason for the ersatz Tea Party right to capture the populist voice."