No, no, no--you also have to take away everybody's guns and outlaw prayer, then we'll be satisfied...

>> Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A bit of furor today over Robert Gibbs' ill-considered decision to publicly vent about the President's left-wing critics:

The press secretary dismissed the "professional left" in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality."

He's wrong, of course. I mean, I'm not really part of the "professional left," i.e. I'm a professional and I'm left but I don't get paid to be a lefty, but, whatever--anyway, he's wrong, of course: those of us on the left who are unhappy with the President won't be happy until the United States has been turned into an atheistic communist utopia run by illegal immigrants and African-Americans who force whitey into mandatory abortions and the euthanasia of old people as part of a scheme to create a master race of Cubans who are perpetually indebted to the Chinese. Or something like that. Gibbs watches Fox News, right?

But seriously: these days, I find that I'm somewhere between the perpetual impotent indignation of Glenn Greenwald and the insufficient-but-still-impotent indignation of Bob Cesca. On the one hand, Cesca's right that the Administration gets insufficient credit for actual accomplishments and too much heat for being incapable of accomplishing the impossible, on the other hand Greenwald's right that there are a whole lot of broken promises in Obama's wake.

(Conservatives shouldn't be gleeful or ask how the "hopey-changey thing" is working out, because they would be gnashing their teeth in rage if Obama had kept more of those promises, and the infantile obstructionism and crazed propaganda of the American right are a major part of the reason those promises have remained only promises. If the Republican party were to act in good faith, it's possible that liberals would have less cause for frustration that the Obama Administration squandered momentum and majorities trying to meet conservatives halfway. So, Sarah, the answer to your question is: "Fuck you.")

I'm not offended by Gibbs' rant so much as I'm amused. I also would agree with Cesca that it's not the kind of thing Gibbs or anyone else in the Administration needs to be airing in public for all sorts of reasons. I can accept that the Obama Administration isn't and never was, contrary to what some of the talking pinheads on Fox have to say, particularly left-wing. Obama, probably like most Democrats, is in that peculiarly center-left position on the American political spectrum that would be considered the moderate, respectable right in any other civilized country on Earth.

The big thing I think we have with Gibbs' shooting from the hip is that it's a sign of the communications breakdown that we have here on the left. Which is typical, really, I mean, we do this all the time. I don't know if it would help if the Obama Administration openly acknowledged that they can't keep a lot of their promises, but it might: "Look, I really wanted to do x, y and z but the situation turned out to be a lot more fucked than anybody realized." I don't mean blame Bush, which is particularly pointless if you're not going to prosecute him for anything, but just acknowledge that things are deeper in the shitter than anyone dared fear.

There's been a little bit of that, but I think the Obama Administration has Carter Syndrome. It's sort of like Vietnam Syndrome, hence the name. What you may remember is that back in the 1970s Carter tried a few times to tell the American public that things were crappy and we might have to tighten our belts and be responsible and suck it up, etc., and what happened was everybody hated him for it and even otherwise responsible newspapers published headlines like "More Mush From The Wimp" (that one was retracted in the second edition, but it still never should have hit the streets) and after four years Americans, not being nearly as bright as we think we are, elected an aging B-movie actor who promised everything would be sunshine and unicorns if we thought happy thoughts. And ever since, Republicans have been the party of rose-colored glasses with thickheaded bluster and the Democrats have been afraid that delivering bad news would make them sound like sniveling wusses.

The thing is, Obama has charisma. Obama has the kind of charisma of a Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln, two presidents whose greatness stems very much from the fact that they were willing and able to look the public in the eye and say, "It's going to get better, but it's going to hurt like a bitch in the meantime." I mean, it's not enough to just say, "We're fucked," you can give the hopeful speech, but you really have to combine that with the call to action and the frank admission that some of the blood on the floor will be our own.

This is the beginning of a great Presidential address:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

Go read the whole speech. What is FDR saying there? He's saying, "I'm not gonna lie: it's bad, babe. It's gonna get worse. But it's gonna get better, too, if we go balls-out. And I'm gonna make it happen, I'm not fucking around, kids, if Congress won't help me I'll do it without 'em."

Now, I would have to say this: that here we run into a curious thing. Gibbs makes mention of progressives allegedly saying Obama is like Bush, which is something I don't think anyone worth listening to has said. But what's really funny when you look at FDR's First Inaugural is that Obama's not like Bush and Bush is a little like FDR. Bush didn't put up with a lot of shit from Congress, either. I guess what we have here is what a remarkable difference competence makes. And also that Obama clearly doesn't want to be as hellbent-with-or-without-the-legislature as Bush was. That's not wholly a bad thing, I mean, who wants a President trammeling over the Constitution? Still....

This brings us to the other thing I wanted to add, and then I'll try to wrap this up: I don't know if frank communications between the President and the public are possible or if Reagan really just ruined the intelligence and gutsiness of the American People to the point that we're just really useless and in denial, but I think a little more aggressiveness from the Obama administration would be productive. This has been said a lot by others and I don't want to belabor it, but I don't think anyone has seen any signs that Obama is willing to do what the other Roosevelt so famously advocated--the President has surely spoken softly, but where the hell is the stick?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't think liberal discontent with the President helps the Republicans as much as they might like to think. The best they can hope for is that some libs will stay at home during the election cycles, and the GOP has its own problems dealing with its own discontented radicals in the teabagger movement. (The GOP has miraculously put the Kentucky and Nevada Senate races back in play by nominating bugfuck-crazy candidates. Who saw that coming?) So it's a bit early and ill-advised for the right to gloat.

Meanwhile, however grumpy liberal discontent may make the President and his advisors, they have options other than slamming their own base. One is to suck it up. Another is to do a better job talking to the public about what's really going on, what they've been able to accomplish and what they can't accomplish and to be frank about what is simply impossible and why and sorry it didn't work. And a third is to come out swinging--at the other side. These aren't incompatible, to be sure. I'd sort of like to see all-of-the-above.

And Gibbs? Don't forget the forced national conversion to Atheistic Islam--it's number 37 on the list of things that will satisfy us wacky liberal cranks. It'll be awesome, Sharia law without all that "God" stuff. Because, really, that's how much we hate America. Lots. Don't forget.


Janiece Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 12:32:00 PM EDT  

Because, really - that's what liberals are known for: Everybody being on the same page and never being critical of our own elected officials.

Oh, wait...

Rachael Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 12:38:00 PM EDT  

I'm actually really, really pissed off about this. I feel like it's a slap to the face of the progressives that are daring to criticize the president. I guess he (or at least Robert Gibbs) thinks that he deserves the mythical, monolithic sycophantic support that not even Bush got out of the right toward the end of his second term. I guess Obama was really just kidding about that holding his feet to the fire thing.

I mostly agree with you. If we could just get some frank honesty of "Look, I tried, and it didn't work out because of X, Y, and Z, so this is the best I can do," I could live with that. I really could. That anything gets through the senate at all right now qualifies as a miracle to begin with. But I've really had enough of this BS where a promise gets broken and then the way of dealing with it seems to be pretending that they didn't make that promise in the first place, and then blaming US for not going along with it.

GRRRRRRR. I can deal with not getting everything I want out of this president. That's the way life is. But I do not deal well with effectively being shit on by the man I supported with my money and my vote. While I doubt I'll be able to keep my vote to myself, considering the giant crazy pile we'll likely get from the Republicans to vote against, this fresh new attitude problem will make it very easy for me to keep my money in my pathetically thin wallet.

Eric Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 4:13:00 PM EDT  

Amplifying on what you're saying, Rachael, Digby makes this very good point:

But what's dangerously myopic about going ballistic as Gibbs did in his statements is that just 10 years ago we had a little event in which only a tiny portion of the base went with a third party bid from the left --- and the consequences were catastrophic. Democrats, of all people, should remember that every vote matters.

...Sometimes all it takes to lose is a quixotic third party bid, 535 disputed votes in Florida and Antonin Scalia. Why would they ask for that kind of trouble?

Y'know, there is that....

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