Gibbs clashes with the ‘professional left’ over criticism of Obama

Holly Bailey

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is dialing back comments he made trashing what he called the "professional left" for its increasingly frequent attacks on President Obama.

In an interview with The Hill's Sam Youngman, Gibbs didn't name names. But he suggested the White House is fed up with liberal bloggers, activists and other media types suggesting Obama has moved too much toward the middle on issues like health care reform and the war and has completely abandoned campaign promises on issues like "don't ask, don't tell." By Gibbs' assessment, nothing Obama does will ever please these people.

"I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. These people ought to be drug-tested," Gibbs fumed. "I mean, it's crazy. ... They wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich were president." The longtime Obama aide went on to say that the "professional left" will only be "satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality."

Not surprisingly, those who felt slighted quickly responded, including Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher, who called Gibbs' comments "a self-indulgent, petty and ill-timed move" as Democrats attempt to fire up progressives ahead of November's midterms. AMERICAblog's John Aravosis, meanwhile, accused Gibbs of adopting a "Sarah Palin talking point."

In a statement emailed Tuesday morning to reporters, including The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, Gibbs didn't quite apologize for his remarks, but he did say they were made "inartfully" and came after watching way too much cable TV news. "Day after day it gets frustrating. Yesterday I watched as someone called legislation to prevent teacher layoffs a bailout. But I know that's not a view held by many, nor were the views I was frustrated about," Gibbs said.

The press secretary said that the president's critics aren't focusing enough on what Obama has actually accomplished, harping instead on his perceived failures. Gibbs acknowledged some Democrats feel that all the changes Obama talked up in his 2008 campaign haven't happened quickly enough, and he insisted the White House is working on it. "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," Gibbs said.

Still, it's not likely that Gibbs' statement will mend the rift. While Obama remains hugely popular among Democrats — with whom his approval rating averages near 80 percent, according to Gallup — White House officials have fretted privately for months that attacks from lefty Dems combined with takedowns from conservatives will further sink Obama's brand, especially with independents, the voting base that put him over the top in 2008. That 's the core group of voters administration officials are worried about ahead of 2012, and apparently with good reason. A recent Gallup poll found that 52 percent of independents believe Democrats are "too liberal." That means Obama will probably continue pitching his policies and campaign appeals squarely in the middle of the spectrum — a move sure to continue to infuriate those on the left.

(Photo by AP/Charles Dharapak)