White House press secretary Robert Gibbs need not have apologized for blasting the "professional left." If anything, he was much too nice when he branded the carpers at President Obama professional Obama baiters. They have relentlessly ripped Obama for being a spineless, deal-making, soft on the right, Beltway, corporate centrist, Democrat. Obama has had to hear this almost from the moment he opened his mouth in February 2007 and announced he was a presidential candidate.
Obama's sin, if it can be called that, was raising the expectation bar on what he could do in the White House to Olympian heights. He did run initially to the left, or what seemed to be the left, only because Democratic Party leaders have veered so far to the right. At times on the campaign stump, he revved up the crowds with defiant knocks at the Pentagon war machine, the corporate and lobbyist money changers, hinted at a new war on poverty, that he'd dump the Patriot Act, cut Wall Street down to size, and back universal health care. The wreck and ruin of the Bush years was the powerful backdrop to Obama's impassioned shouts to remake America. Legions did believe that Obama had come down from the mountaintop in lock step with Moses.
But even a cursory read of his actual record, as well as a fine comb of his speeches, statements, and interviews, during his years in the Illinois state legislature and his brief stint in the Senate showed that he was hardly the "most liberal Democratic senator" the right branded him, let alone a starry eyed idealist. He was a pragmatic, centrist, Democrat who when circumstances dictated would court and conciliate moderates and conservatives on crucial policy issues. Obama's pragmatic bent was plainly evident during the campaign when he and Republican rival John McCain for the most part agreed on the issues of expansion of stem-cell research, immigration, faith-based social services, expanded government wiretapping, building more nuclear power plants, global warming, fair trade, and the death penalty. Obama at times edged close to McCain on his plans on health care and taxes and the Iraq War.
Obama got the stamp of approval from top Democrats, broke the cash registers on fund raising, beat down the Clinton Machine, got the parade of endorsements from former Reagan and Bush Sr., and even W. Bush officials, and drew the raves of virtually every major news outlet. This would never have happened if there was even the slightest hint that he would be a toss-caution-to-the-wind left crusader.
The dictate of American presidential politics is that liberal and moderate Democrats in the early stages of the presidential political game run to the left and move quickly to the center as they sniff the possibility of victory. This hardly tags him as a play to the gate political backslider. It merely shows that pragmatism in presidential politics is the only real principle that counts when it comes to winning and governing.
That's precisely what irks Gibbs, and almost certainly Obama too, since the criticism is drenched with political denial. Obama scrapped talk of universal health care, and later dropped the public option from his plan. If he didn't he could have kissed any deal on health care good-bye. The millions of Americans that ultimately will benefit from many of the provisions of the reform would have been the loser. He backpedalled from his hard line demand that the US immediately pull out of Iraq, and instead talked about timetables, and assessing ground conditions. If he hadn't done that, the Pentagon and conservative Democratic war hawks would have ratcheted up their assault on him as a Neville Chamberlain reincarnate appeaser. As it now stands there will be an Iraq pull out before the end of his first term. Obama gets pounded for allegedly reneging on his promise to close Guantanamo, for wiping out the ban on gays in the military, and for not spending billions more on the economic stimulus, but a close look shows that Obama has not reversed gear on any of these pledges. It just hasn't happened as fast and in the way the left demands.
Obama takes great offense at any talk that he's back flipped on the issues. He pleads for progressives to appreciate the changes that have been made in the relative short time he's been in office, to consider the mess that he inherited, and the powerful forces arrayed against him that want nothing less than his political head on a platter. That's a reasonable plea to make. But it's a plea that will fall on deaf ears. There are just too many on the left whose heads are stuffed with too many delusions about what he can do and when and how he should do it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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