Serving Their Own Purposes

04/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At the Maria Leavey media breakfast with Speaker Pelosi on Tuesday, Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake raised a really important question with Pelosi, asking her to react to media reports about unnamed White House aides sniping about her. Among other things, these unnamed snipers are complaining about how partisan she is, about unspecified leaks coming out of her office. They have bizarrely said she is "harder to deal with than the Republicans," and, strangest of all, that she passed the president's stimulus bill "too quickly."

It's the old Dick Morris triangulation strategy that the Clinton White House used in the aftermath of the 1994 shellacking of Democrats at the polls. At the time, I disagreed with the strategy (it was one of the reasons I left the White House), and I still believe both that Clinton would have survived without it and that we would have retaken Congress in the 1996 elections as well. But Clinton doing it at a time when the Democratic Congressional approval ratings and the Democratic brand in general was in the dirt was at least understandable. Doing it now- when the Democratic brand is pulverizing the Republican brand, when Obama's approval ratings are so strong, when our next election is the off-year Congressional races, and when we need Democratic unity to pass the most ambitious legislative program in more than four decades- it's insane.

I don't believe this is Obama's idea. What this feels like instead is something else that happened all too often in the Clinton White House: damaging leaks, spun in the most damaging possible way, by disloyal White House staffers pursuing a personal agenda instead of the president's. Why else would you complain about Pelosi fast-tracking the president's own proposal (one he wanted on his desk three weeks after arriving in the Oval Office), or say the Speaker was harder to deal with than Republicans who are strenuously opposing you at every turn? Make no mistake: among the president's senior appointees are some conservative, conventional wisdom Democrats with lots of friends among the special interest lobbyists. I have no doubt that they will pursue their personal agenda even if it hurts their president, and progressives need to call them out on it.