Robert Gibbs attacks the fringe losers of the left

The press secretary's outburst is half Nixonian self-pity and half Hannity/Palin caricature of the left

Published August 10, 2010 12:11PM (EDT)

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2010, (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (AP)
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2010, (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (AP)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

You may think that the reason you're dissatisfied with the Obama administration is because of substantive objections to their policies:  that they've done so little about crisis-level unemployment, foreclosures and widespread economic misery.  Or because of the White House's apparently endless devotion to Wall Street.  Or because the President has escalated a miserable, pointless and unwinnable war that is entering its ninth year.  Or because he has claimed the power to imprison people for life with no charges and to assassinate American citizens without due process, intensified the secrecy weapons and immunity instruments abused by his predecessor, and found all new ways of denying habeas corpus.  Or because he granted full-scale legal immunity to those who committed serious crimes in the last administration.  Or because he's failed to fulfill -- or affirmatively broken -- promises ranging from transparency to gay rights.

But Robert Gibbs -- in one of the most petulant, self-pitying outbursts seen from a top political official in recent memory, half derived from a paranoid Richard Nixon rant and the other half from a Sean Hannity/Sarah Palin caricature of The Far Left -- is here to tell you that the real reason you're dissatisfied with the President is because you're a fringe, ideological, Leftist extremist ingrate who needs drug counseling:

The White House is simmering with anger at criticism from liberals who say President Obama is more concerned with deal-making than ideological purity.

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

"I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said. "I mean, it's crazy."

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."

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."

The White House, constantly under fire from expected enemies on the right, has been frustrated by nightly attacks on cable news shows catering to the left, where Obama and top lieutenants like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have been excoriated for abandoning the public option in healthcare reform; for not moving faster to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay; and for failing, so far, to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. . . .

Gibbs said the professional left is not representative of the progressives who organized, campaigned, raised money and ultimately voted for Obama.

Progressives, Gibbs said, are the liberals outside of Washington “in America,” and they are grateful for what Obama has accomplished in a shattered economy with uniform Republican opposition and a short amount of time.

So, to recap:  (1) The Professional Left are totally irrelevant losers who speak for absolutely nobody, and certainly nobody in Real America who matters; but (2) they're ruining everything for the White House!!!  And:  if you criticize the President, it's only because you're such a rabid extremist that you harbor a secret desire to eliminate the Pentagon -- that's how anti-American you are!  You're such a Far Left extremist that Dennis Kucinich isn't far enough Left for you, you subversive, drug-using hippies!  You're so far to the Left that you want to turn the U.S. into Canada.  As David Frum put it today:  "More proof of my longtime thesis, Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base." 

The Democrats have been concerned about a lack of enthusiasm on the part of their base headed into the midterm elections.  These sorts of rabid, caricatured, Fox-News-copying attacks on the Left will undoubtedly help generate more enthusiasm -- more loud clapping -- for the Democrats.  I know I'm eager to go canvass and clap for Democrats after reading Gibbs' noble, inspiring vision.  If it were Gibbs' goal to be as petulant and self-pitying as possible, what could he have done differently?

Perhaps one day the White House can work itself up to express this sort of sputtering rage against the Right, or the Wall Street thieves who destroyed the American economy, or the permanent factions that control Washington.  Until then, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with White House explanations that the Real Culprits are not (of course) them, but the Professional Left, that is simultaneously totally irrelevant and ruining everything.  I'll give credit to Gibbs for putting his name on this outburst:  these are usually the things they say anonymously and then deny afterward on the record that it's what they think.


UPDATE:  On September 9, 2008 -- roughly two months before the election -- Barack Obama addressed a large, enthusiastic crowd and said:  "As president, I will lead a new era of accountability in education. But see, I don't just want to hold our teachers accountable; I want to hold our government accountable. I want you to hold me accountable."  In 20 short months, we've gone from "hold me accountable" to "get drug tested," you wretched ingrates.


UPDATE II:  Robert Gibbs:  

I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it's crazy.


Electronic Frontier Foundation:


Charlie Savage, The New York Times:

Bob Herbert, The New York Times:

Anthony Romero:

The Hill:

NYT Editorial Page:

I hope there are enough drug testing facilities to accommodate Talking Points Memo reporters, Charlie Savage, the lawyers from EFF, Bob Herbert, Anthony Romero, Russ Feingold, and The New York Times Editorial Board.  I don't know anyone who asserts that Obama is the same as Bush -- I don't believe that and never asserted that -- but if anyone needs to be "drug tested," it would be those denying that many of Bush's most controversial policies and actions have been embraced in full by Barack Obama.


UPDATE III:  Gibbs has now issued a statement trying to walk back his comments, invoking the Beltway cliché to do so:  "what I may have said inartfully."  Aside from how incoherent his explanation is for why he said what he said -- see here -- I want to focus on his closing paragraph:

So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies, and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because we've come too far to turn back now.

In other words:  we should all stop criticizing the administration when it does things we think are bad, destructive and wrong, and instead dutifully place our allegiance to Party above all else by loyally and quietly working to elect more Democrats.  Sorry:  that's not going to happen.  I vastly prefer the model of citizenship outlined by a Senator named Barack Obama in his 2005 Daily Kos diary:

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.

Being a rational, engaged citizen means objecting when political leaders do things that you think are wrong or bad and praising them when they do things you think are good and constructive.  That even includes President Obama.  It's just that simple, and pointing to Scary John Boehner hovering in the corner in order to ratchet up fear levels isn't going to change that, nor should it.  Barack Obama is President of the U.S. at least until January, 2013, and wields vast power.  It's therefore vital that he, like any other political official, be held accountable for the bad actions he undertakes -- just as he himself always argued.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------