The Spectacle Blog

Gibbs’ Enemies to the Left

By on 8.10.10 | 1:07PM

This morning White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was quoted as saying that movement liberals "ought to be drug tested" for comparing Barack Obama to George W. Bush and that "[t]hey will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon," and now deputy press secretary Bill Burton has replaced Gibbs at the podium for the daily press briefing. 

Of course the usual left-wing suspects were outraged by Gibbs's comments -- and rightfully so. Gibbs has already walked back his comments and it remains to be seen whether his time as press secretary is over, but it's worth considering whether this represents the beginning of a new phase in liberal disenchantment with the president. 

For example, Nate Silver makes the case that Obama is starting to lose control of the narrative of his own successes: 

...I suspect that for most liberals, any real sense of progress has now been lost. Yes, the left got a good-but-not-great health care bill, a good-but-not-great stimulus package, a good-but-not-great financial reform plan: these are a formidable bounty, and Obama and the Democratic Congress worked hard for them. But they now read as a basically par-for-the-course result from a time when all the stars were aligned for the Democrats -- rather than anything predictive of a new direction, or of a more progressive future. In contrast, as should become emphatically clear on November 2nd, the reversion to the mean has been incredibly swift. 

...

I don't know whether Gibbs was going "off-message" out of frustration, or whether the White House has become so jaded that they actually think this was a good strategy. Either way, it speaks to the need for some fresh blood and some fresh ideas in the White House. The famously unflappable Obama is losing his cool. 

And Ben Smith suggests that liberals might just now be remembering that Obama was never fully a movement member:

But a key thing to understand about Obama's presidency is the unusual relationship between the former Illinois Senator and the traditional Democratic infrastructure of power. Most candidates build their campaigns by courting one constituency -- auto-workers, Asian-Americans, tech executives, etc. -- at a time, often for many years. But Obama had no shot at most of these groups. Hillary Clinton had been courting the key components of the institutional party -- most of big labor, members of Congress, the civil rights establishment -- for decades. John Edwards had tacked far enough left to win the allegiance of anti-war and anti-trade factions.

Obama -- making a virtue out of necessity -- didn't bother with much of the deal-making and courtship because he didn't have a chance anyway.

...

Ultimately, the organized left got on board, of course. They couldn't do anything else and many -- like MoveOn, which vastly expanded its email list -- enhanced their own strength in the process. They worked hard for Obama's election.

But Gibbs' dig is a reminder that at the heart of this White House is a belief that Obama is president despite the Democratic Party, not because of it.

It's enough to make one wonder about the wisdom of maintaining the same press secretary for over a year. Gibbs's job is to deflect tough questions and to withhold information that people really want. Given enough time in this role, he was bound to develop some animosity with his toughest critics. Now that animosity has surfaced, and it's Obama who must deal with the fallout. 

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