Obama's view of liberal criticisms

At a $30,000 per plate DNC fundraiser, the President explains that it's your fault if you're dissatisfied

Published September 17, 2010 6:18PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

Last night, Barack Obama spoke at a $30,000 per plate DNC fundraising event at the "home of Richard and Ellen Richman, who live in the exclusive Conyers Farm development in Greenwich [Connecticut]'s famed 'back country' neighborhood," and said the following about liberal critics of his presidency:

Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get -- to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed -- oh, well, the public option wasn't there.  If you get the financial reform bill passed -- then, well, I don't know about this particular derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven't yet brought about world peace and -- (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.) We have had the most productive, progressive legislative session in at least a generation.

So, just as Robert Gibbs before him explained (albeit more harshly), if you're one of those people dissatisfied with large parts of the Obama presidency, that's only because you have something wrong with the way you think (you need drug testing/you "congenitally see the glass as half empty"), and because you are saddled with extremely unrealistic, child-like expectations (you're angry that the Pentagon hasn't closed yet/bitter that Obama "hasn't yet brought about world peace:  'I thought that was going to happen quicker' (Laughter.)").  In other words, you're just a petulant, unreasonable, unrealistic, fringe child who doesn't appreciate the greatness and generosity he's given you (h/t Jane Hamsher).  Contrary to what many of you thought, it's these flaws within yourself that cause you to be dissatisfied with the administration, not because of any of this:


Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 7, 2009:


Charlie Savage, The New York Times, February 21, 2009:

Bob Herbert, The New York Times, June 22, 2009:

Politico, June 9, 2010:

Trading Economics, September, 2010:


Business Insider, June 22, 2010:

The Hill, October 13, 2009:

Huffington Post, March 16, 2010:

New York Times, April 6, 2010:

AFP, June 6, 2010:

Washington Independent, October 29, 2009:

The Hill, August 5, 2010:

BBC, December 2, 2009:

NYT Editorial Page, June 8, 2010:

What's most striking about Obama's comments is that there is no acceptance whatsoever of responsibility (I've failed in some critical areas; we could have/should have done better).  There's not even any base-motivating vow to fight to fix these particular failures (we'll keep fighting for a public option/to curb executive power abuses/to reduce lobbyist and corporate control of our political process).  Instead, he wants you to know that if you criticize him -- or even question what he's done ("well, I don't know about this particular derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that") -- it's your fault:  for being some sort of naive, fringe-leftist idiot who thought he would eliminate the Pentagon and bring about world peace in 18 months, and/or because you simply don't sufficiently appreciate everything he's done for you because you're congenitally dissatisfied.  

It's true that there are good things Obama has done:  as but one example, both Elizabeth Warren and Simon Johnson believe that Warren's appointment today will empower her to help police Wall Street's abusive consumer practices in meaningful ways.  But there have been many, many awful things -- not things which he has failed yet to do (i.e., "quickly enough"), but multiple policies he's affirmatively adopted, including many which directly violate his campaign pledges and ones which Democrats spent years during the Bush presidency vehemently condemning.  Sitting at a $30,000 per plate fundraising dinner and mocking liberal critics as irrational ingrates while wealthy Party donors laugh probably does wonders for bruised presidential egos, but it doesn't seem to be a particularly effective way to motivate those who are so unmotivated.  Then again, Barack Obama isn't actually up for election in November, so perhaps the former goal is more important to him than the latter.  It certainly seems that way from these comments.


UPDATE:  The Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg heard Obama's message loud and clear -- and, as is typical for Beltway journalists, can barely contain his glee when the "left" is attacked and mocked.  Here's the headline to his column:

After quoting Obama's comments -- the same ones I quoted above -- Stromberg giggled:  "Funny. And true. . . . I'm a little proud of the president for continuing to stand up for himself. Here's a Democratic president shaking the left by its shoulders, begging it to recognize how good they have it. But, of course, since when did it work to tell your supporters that they're irrational?"  He then noted that this proves that prior comments scorning the Left from White House officials, such as from Gibbs, were "accurately reflecting the president's feelings . . . ."  Remember:  if you vehemently object to any of the above-listed policies or failures of Obama, then you're "petulant."

Deriding the Left, of course, is a time-honored, trite way for establishment politicians like Obama to make trite establishment journalists like Stromberg gush with affection.  It does not, however, strike me as a very effective campaign strategy when virtually every polling expert is warning that the Democrats' greatest danger is pervasive dissatisfaction and even anger in their "base."  They've been using this "strategy" for awhile now, and it doesn't seem to be working out very well.  But at least The Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg is amused and "proud" of the President for following in the brave footsteps of Robert Gibbs and others by standing up to the wretched, fringe, simultaneously omnipotent and irrelevant, petulant left.  


UPDATE II:  From The New York Times today:

Labor leaders, alarmed at a possible Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress, promise to devote a record amount of money and manpower to helping Democrats stave off disaster. But political analysts, and union leaders themselves, say that their efforts may not be enough because union members, like other important parts of the Democratic base, are not feeling particularly enthusiastic about the party -- a reality that, in turn, further dampens the Democrats’ chances of holding onto their Congressional majorities.

This may sound like a serious problem, but I'm sure it's nothing that can't be solved by just a couple more Obama speeches delivered at $30,000 per plate dinners in Connecticut, at which the President derides their concerns as nothing but the by-product of congenital grievances and insufficient gratitude -- maybe he can even throw in a couple strawmen:  "these union workers won't be satisfied until I've seized the means of production and abolished capitalism" -- followed by a celebratory column in the Post from Stephen Stromberg giving the President a reverent high five for slapping down those petulant union ingrates.  That'll do the trick.  

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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