As Wall Street Support Shifts from Left to Right, Liberal Pundits Respond to Gibbs’ Attack

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By Kevin Gosztola | August 12, 2010 | [print_link]
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs (photo, left) became the spokesperson for Obama Administration contempt toward the left on Tuesday. The display of contempt came in the midst of a nearly 70 percent shift in Wall Street executive donations from Democratic candidates to Republican candidates ahead of the November mid-term elections.
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On Tuesday, The Hill published an interview with Gibbs, who said what Obama has done and is doing would never be “good enough” for the “professional left.” Gibbs attacked the left for comparing Obama to George W. Bush, suggested, “these people ought to be drug tested” and said they “wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.” He also said they would only “be satisfied when [America has] Canadian healthcare and [America has] eliminated the Pentagon.”
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Gibbs’ remark revealed a lot about what members of the Obama Administration think of the role of debate and citizen participation in government. And, the implicit apology Gibbs made in the aftermath of his “inartful” comments revealed even more about an administration that believes progressives should take marching orders from this administration or else.
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“So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies,” he said, and work together “because we’ve come too far to turn back now,” Gibbs said after mentioning he watches a lot of cable television, as if to excuse his remark.
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While circumstantial, the best evidence for why Gibbs would feel like uttering the aforementioned remarks is the shift of money from Wall Street to Republicans ahead of the election. Obama was the candidate of Wall Street in the 2008 Election garnering nearly $8 million in campaign contributions from securities and investment industries (nearly double what Republican presidential candidate John McCain garnered). The Democrats earned 57 percent of campaign contributions from securities and investment industries.
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The situation compels the Obama Administration especially White House press secretary Gibbs to whip the left and the sections that are most listened to by voters into line not only becausemoney from business interests needs to swing back the other way but because disappointed and disillusioned voters will likely stay home, not donate to Democratic Party campaigns, not make phone calls, and refuse to go door-to-door canvassing prior to Election Day if they do not fall in line.
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“Professional Left” Attacked by Gibbs Responds
White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton revealed later on Tuesday that what Gibbs really meant when he said “professional left”–a concocted term that you’d think you’d hear Glenn Beck utter that has scarcely been spoken prior to Gibbs’ remarks–was directed at liberal pundits. So, how did the attacked liberal pundits respond?
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Ed Schultz, host of The Ed Schultz Show on MSNBC, stated Gibbs thinks progressive are just a bunch of whiners because they expect a democratic president to act like a democrat. Is that it? Bottom line, the White House, I don’t think they know who their friends and allies are at this point. Gibbs tried to walk back his comments today saying that he spoke in artfully and blaming his tirade on watching too much cable? Hold it right there. When was the last time you saw him on cable? Day in and day out they ought to be on cable in the sound chamber of America winning the cultural war and pushing the progressive agenda.
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They don’t do that. That’s what I have a problem with. And the other thing is about them being like the Bush administration. I did say on this program last week that their sell job on this cleaned up oil issue in the gulf rivals that of the Bush administration. It does, because the scientific community is saying one thing and the pr community is saying something else, and I think the White House is buying into it.
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The following day Ed Schultz had Rep. Alan Grayson on the show to talk about how he thinks Gibbs should be fired. Schultz said this just before Grayson came on:
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Really? You mean there’s no other progressive candidate out there anywhere? Barack Obama just — it’s just — I mean, he’s the only one that could hold progressive values and win an election? So the base is just stuck? We just have to do whatever the White House wants to do and we really can’t make any demands without being criticized?
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The Democrats, well, you better hope Gibbs is right. He took all the air right out of the news cycle on a day that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats over in the House saved 300,000 jobs.
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Do you think that’s a good story?
I can’t believe how tone deaf the White House is to the very people who busted their fanny to get these folks in office. I’m also sick and tired of all these shots coming at cable news.
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In a “Special Comment” that should be viewed in its entirety, Olbermann objected to the critique of the “professional left” when the “professional right” are the pundits who should be criticized:
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“It is profound and noble to see this President take so seriously the premise that he is just as much “President Of People Who Didn’t Vote For Him,” as of “People Who Did.” But this is ridiculous. The President has shown a willingness to give the Professional Right not just “seats at the table” as we try to restore this country to where it was before Bush and Cheney got a hold of it, not just to give it half the seats at the table, but often — far too often –to give it all the seats, the table, and the damn carpet”
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“Sir. You need to get past the premise that the Left differs from the Right in terms of ideology. In this America, they differ in terms of the hard-wiring of the brain. The Right wants not leadership — it wants lockstep. The Right wants not nuanced thought from its adherents — it wants salutes and sworn fealty. The Right wants not critical analysis from its media — it wants propaganda.

If, Mr. President, you have fallen into the trap of equating “The Professional Left” and “The Professional Right” of the false equivalency of msnbc and Fox News — you are going to spend the rest of the time in the White House curled up in a churlish ball in the corner wondering what happened to your encore.

If indeed I am part of the “Professional Left” I am here to applaud good policy and good leadership and good statesmanship, and to boo bad policy and bad leadership and bad statesmanship. I’m sorry, Sir; I’m sorry, Mr. Gibbs, we are not the Right. We think over here. And we fight for what we believe in…”
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At first thought, one should be surprised that liberal pundits would be attacked. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) pointed out on MSNBC’s Hardball the day after that “Rachel Maddow did a segment, almost her entire show to this question about how much they’ve accomplished. It was so — it was so good from the White House perspective. They used it at fundraisers later on that week, you know, to show the video.” Perhaps, the move is meant to push MSNBC to run more segments that toe the party line.
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Paul Begala, who has worked in the White House and come under fire for being an outspoken liberal pundit, said “there’s a lot of merit” to what Gibbs said “frankly.” Interestingly, he noted when he was working for Clinton and “the left was on [Clinton’s] butt too,” Clinton gave an interview to Rolling Stone journalist Bill Glider and attacked the “knee-jerk liberal press” and sounded like Nixon or Reagan.
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Chuck Todd, in the same segment featuring Rep. Weiner, said “This White House thought that the liberal blogosphere was going to be like the conservative talk radio for Bush and was just always going to support whatever they did.” Indeed, much of the contempt from the Obama Administration has been directed toward the Internet left. For example, in October of 2009:
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An unnamed White House adviser had some choice words for liberal bloggers who’ve criticized the administration for failing to make progress on gay rights issues, CNBC’s John Harwood said yesterday, and some are pretty upset about it.

When asked about “conversations about some things they thought would have been done but haven’t,” Harwood said that “[t]he White House views this opposition as really part of the Internet left fringe…And for a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn’t take this opposition, one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.”
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Rachel Maddow, host of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, brought it up during an interview with New York Times columnist Gail Collins on Wednesday.  She said the story was good as a “personality story” and proceeded to ask something more “substantive”–“What will the Democrats do to actually get people to vote for them in November?”
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Collins responded, “It will be the getting out the vote trick that will work. I’m not sure you can get the Republicans very excited about going out to vote for their people either. In the end, it’s going to come down to pure fear. Whichever party can convince the public that the other party is the more terrifying and horrible is the one that wins.” [emphasis added]
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Finally, Dylan Ratigan, who appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe the morning the reaction to Gibbs began to unfold among the left and dismissed Obama as a “little boy” in the eyes of Wall Street who “just bends over” rather than stand up to the financial industry, had Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake and Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com on his show.
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Greenwald, who posted a response to Gibbs on Salon.com that proves there is reason to compare Obama to Bush, said in the interview, “It’s not exactly uncommon for White Houses to become very insular and adopt these siege bunker mentalities at all times where they think any critics are irrational and outrageous and they deserve nothing but gratitude and thanks from the public. They don’t usually admit it quite as candidly as Robert Gibbs did. At least they haven’t since Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew but this is a common sentiment for White Houses to have.”
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Ratigan asked Hamsher, “Is there a calculation here, and the calculation is that the lefties are going to vote for him anyway? So you know what? Screw them. We don’t need to do what they tell us. We don’t need to accommodate what they want. We don’t have to listen to their nonsense because what are they going to do, vote for Sarah Palin?
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To which Hamsher said, “If that’s what he’s thinking, then it’s clear why Robert Gibbs is not working in the political strategy department. If you look at what happened in Connecticut last night, only 20% of the Democratic electorate turned out in the primary. That’s down from 43% for the primary in 2006. That’s disastrous numbers fro Democrats and we’re seeing the fruition of Rahm Emanuel’s strategy of trying to corral corporate donations for Democrats by essentially becoming Republican, and it has disappointed the electorate.”
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An Odd Manifestation of a Midterm Election Message That Voters Should Fear Republicans?
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The public knows that the Democrats chief ally in winning elections in recent history has been now former president George W. Bush. He and other Republicans who would continue Bush policies have been the boogeymen that remind liberals to get to the polls. Democrats are already on the campaign trail reminding progressives of what they will surely get if Democrats do not get re-elected and maintain control of the House and Senate.
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The flight of cash from campaign coffers the Democratic Party regularly dips into to Republican Party campaign coffers along with the enthusiasm gap among Democratic voters is huge. When the White House thinks about what would trigger Democratic voters to be unenthusiastic, they likely assume voters are either watching cable television and getting the wrong idea or are reading Internet blogs and getting the wrong idea.
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It’s times like these that the Democratic Party has to remind the left what their role is, a role they most often have no problem playing; that’s the role of political slave, civic adolescent, foot soldier, etc.
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The harsh reality is that while the Republican Party’s base of rabid free market-loving minions can vote Republican or if they check their bigotry at the door on election days, they can vote for conservative or centrist Democrats who will still deliver the agenda they want to see implemented. On the other hand, poor, minorities, working class, anti-corporatists, environmentalists, and anti-imperialists have no alternative. The Democratic Party knows this, the center left to far left understands this, and together the two have pursued a love-hate relationship for the last century working together to kill alternatives to the Democratic and Republican Parties.
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Much energy is expended in service of the notion that if better Democrats are elected the country will make necessary sociopolitical advancements and will address many of the dire situations that have unfolded over the past decade and continue to unfold. The uncomfortable truth is that, those dedicated to electing better Democrats, are met with opposition from a president they voted into office. Obama supported Blanche Lincoln and opposed the candidate labor interests had been funding to defeat Lincoln. And, most recently, Obama supported Michael Bennet, who defeated Andrew Romanoff, the candidate who appeared to be a progressive candidate.
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Only in instances where Obama and Democrats are speaking to a progressive audience do they promote the idea that progressives should “keep up the good fight” and hold the administration accountable. When progressives actually follow what Obama has said, they get called “fucking retarded.”
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Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told a closed door meeting of top liberal leaders in the fall of 2009 that they were “fucking stupid” to be running ads pressuring Blue Dogs and centrist Dem Senators to back the public option.
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Openly gay Representative Barney Frank accused those who organized a National Equality March of doing something “useless.” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) said Democrats have pushed their agenda too far left and have alienated voters when Republican Senator Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. And, Obama recently spoke at the National Urban League’s Centennial Conference and told the civil rights organization and treated the attendees as if their opposition to his education agenda meant they were “status quo people.”
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Those who organize independently outside of the two-party system are regarded, to use language Rep. Ike Skelton, a Democrat, used when Bush was president during a hearing when peace activists were present, as “assholes.” And, the Democratic Party hopes outspoken citizens will demobilize themselves when there are no electoral campaigns to support and they hope many will not ponder matters that have been settled or demarcated as off-limits to citizen influence.
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This cannot be a message that wins in November–that is, if it continues to translate into the conversation that was between liberal pundits and guests in the aftermath. The public actually does harbor a lot of distrust toward the cable news. The Pew Research Center for People & the Press published a survey report not long ago showing that from 1985 to 2009 public the amount of Americans who think “news organizations generally get the facts straight” has plummeted from 55% to 29%. And, the report noted that Republicans continue to be highly critical of the news and the growth in negative attitudes stems from “increasingly unfavorable evaluations by Democrats.”
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So, campaign messages where Obama and Democrats talk of disconnect between cable news and the American people could work especially if Democrats project views like they did in the 2008 Election. If Democrats think what’s being talked about is Fox News, it works. And, if Republicans think what’s being talked about is the “liberal media,” it works. Only if they are forced to explain what they mean when they attack cable news and get down to specifics will the Democrats be handicapping campaigns severely.
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Whatever Democrats do from now until November to “win,” the chief concern among citizens should not be how they can best be a loyalist to the Democrats. Rather, they should think hard about what Gail Collins said about how the party that wins will win because they made voters fear the other political party more.
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Honestly, is that really a political system citizens should support–one where they have to decide not who to support but who is the least worth supporting each election year?
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Author’s Bio:
Kevin Gosztola is a multimedia editor for OpEdNews.com. He follows media & activism also writes movie reviews for OEN. His work can be found on Open Salon, The Seminal, Media-ocracy.com, and a blog on Alternet called Moving Train Media. He can be heard on a weekly radio show called the “Saturday News Hangover.” He is a 2009 Young People For Fellow and a documentary filmmaker who graduated with a Film/Video B.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago in the Spring 2010. In April 2010, he co-organized a major arts & media summit called “Art, Access & Action,” which explored the intersection of politics, art and media and was supported by Free Press. He is also a member of the Media Democracy Day Think Tank in Chicago.

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