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Yelling At The 'Professional Left' Is One Of The White House's Few Joys

First Posted: 08/10/10 03:15 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 06:20 PM ET

Obama

So, today, the internet is all abuzz over comments made by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, dutifully recorded for posterity by The Hill's Sam Youngman, in which Gibbs "unloads" with "anger" over the complaints of the "professional left."

Who is the "professional left," exactly? It's hard to say, really! I gather, however, that Gibbs is referring to a few liberal columnists, some influential bloggers, and a slew of political advocacy organizations.

And why is Gibbs angry with them? Well, for a host of reasons. Some members of the professional left are disappointed that after agreeing to not make a big stink about health care reform in the form of a single payer system, the White House failed to hold the line on the public option. Others are upset that the White House didn't fight harder for a financial reform package that was less deferent to the desires of big Wall Street firms that created the economic crisis. Some dislike the way the Obama administration has maintained or expanded upon many of the unitary executive powers claimed by the Bush administration, which Obama decried on the campaign trail. And there's a litany of other complaints -- for instance, when the LGBT community -- a traditional Democratic voting bloc -- won a landmark victory in the fight for same-sex marriage, the celebration was greeted by the White House with a reminder that they oppose same-sex marriage.

In these cases, the "professional left" has committed no crime other than having a factual basis for their complaint and the willingness to point this out in public. Now, there have been times when the "professional left" has lost sight over the fact that President Obama does not have magical powers that allow him to supercede Congress, the filibuster, and the idiotic political maneuvers of Senator Ben Nelson. Nevertheless, there are other members of the "professional left" -- like Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein -- who are willing to point this out, again and again. That is largely a debate the "professional left" is having with itself, continuing to this day in the remarks of Adam Green, of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:

When Republicans opposed the stimulus and when Joe Lieberman opposed the overwhelmingly popular public option, the president could have barnstormed across their states and demanded they support policies that their constituents wanted -- but instead he caved without a fight.

Now, why is it that the "professional left" can't just let certain things go, and be happy that they are represented in the White House by a Democrat? Well, I'd wager that the word "professional" is the key term, here. Here's just one example: During the Bush administration, Salon's Glenn Greenwald wrote constantly about the abuses of executive power that led to surveillance of U.S. citizens, the denial of habeas corpus rights, state secrets, and indefinite detentions-without-trials. If, after Obama was elected, Greenwald was to suddenly shift and say that all of that stuff is now perfectly okay because the guy doing all the power-grabbing was a "good guy" with a "white hat" and lovely Democrat blood running through his veins, people would size up Greenwald as a pathetic sell-out, and no one would ever take his arguments seriously ever again.

And lo, it comes to pass that people who have expressed opinions about their beliefs and ideals continue to hold those beliefs and ideals in high esteem. And this is, in many ways, a good thing: people who would urge accountability on their political opponents should continue to hold their nominal political allies accountable as well as a matter of consistency. Believe it or not, there was a time when the Obama administration embraced this:

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.

Now why does the White House even care about the agitations of the "professional left?" It seems weird, when you consider the fact that liberal voters -- the "amateur left," I guess -- remain pretty steadfast in their support.

But if I had to guess, I'd say that the War in Afghanistan is hard and it makes the White House feel bad. Solving the unemployment crisis is hard and it makes the White House feel bad. Fighting the intransigent Senate on a daily basis is hard and it makes the White House feel bad. And defending large Congressional majorities against the historical forces that act against them in off-year elections is hard and it makes the White House feel bad. But the one thing that's easy and consistently makes the White House feel good is to yell at liberal bloggers and columnists, so they do that, whenever they feel their swagger is in short supply.

I guess the good news is that everyone can rest easy knowing that JournoList members weren't quite the loyal, conspiratorial allies of the Obama administration that they were made out to be!


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