Progressive bloggers were in an uproar Sunday night after a White House "adviser," speaking on condition of anonymity, urged them to "take off their pajamas" and get serious about politics.
NBC White House correspondent John Harwood relayed the quote during a segment he shot for Nightly News following a massive gay rights rally in Washington.
"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 their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely-divided country is complicated and difficult," said Harwood, who has solid sources inside the Obama White House and routinely talks with top administration officials.
In an email to the Huffington Post on Monday, Harwood clarified that the quote was not meant to convey any displeasure on the part of the administration for the gay community's public advocacy.
"My comments quoting an Obama adviser about liberal bloggers/pajamas weren't about the LGBT community or the marchers," he wrote. "They referred more broadly to those grumbling on the left about an array of issues in addition to gay rights, including the war in Afghanistan and health care and Guantanamo -- and whether all that added up to trouble with Obama's liberal base..."
Nevertheless, the segment spread quickly through the netroots, with the targets of the offending line taking understandable offense.
John Aravosis of the prominent AMERICABlog, wrote:
So the gay community, and its concerns about President Obama's inaction, and backtracking, on DADT and DOMA, are now, according to President Obama's White House, part of a larger "fringe" that acts like small children who play in their pajamas and need to grow up. (And a note to our readers: The White House just included all of you in that loony "left fringe.")
Prominent gay blogger Pam Spaulding weighed in with the following on her personal site:
Wow. Nice to know that asking to pass federal legislation (ENDA) so my fellow North Carolinian LGBTs don't get canned for being who they are is a "fringe" activity. I must remind the White House that North Carolina delivered for him in 2008, and LGBT support was key, and was leaned on for support in a big way.
And Jane Hamsher, over at FireDogLake, offered this scathing bit of pushback:
That is just classic. After pandering to LGBT leaders last night the truth comes out. Dear gays: grow up and let us get about the serious business of governance. Signed, some dude who's too afraid to give his real name.
And old anonymous is, of course, full of shit. Obama's poll numbers took a 10 point hit with Democrats after Kathleen Sebelius said the White House was willing to ditch the public option. She had to dial it back instantly, and ever since that time they've been scrambling to find a way to give the public option the heave-ho in a way that didn't backlash on the President.
By mid-morning Monday, the administration was already in damage control -- though, echoing Harwood's clarification, it focused its efforts on shoring up hurt feelings among bloggers in general and not those who focus on LBGT issues. In a comment to Greg Sargent of The Plum Line, White House senior communications director Dan Pfeiffer basically refuted the report.
"That sentiment does not reflect White House thinking at all, we've held easily a dozen calls with the progressive online community because we believe the online communities can often keep the focus on how policy will affect the American people rather than just the political back-and-forth," Pfeiffer emailed.
In actuality, of course, the relationship between the White House and the netroots is far less fractious than Harwood's source suggests and maybe a little less symbiotic than what Pfeiffer offered. The White House has actively encouraged progressive bloggers to help it pass legislation -- whether by ginning up support for an initiative or fact-checking media reports. The administration has also engaged the online left on multiple occasions -- from high-profile presidential news conferences to off-the-record briefings on health care reform. This past week, White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee hosted his third conference call with bloggers, this time to discuss regulatory reform.
But while the administration certainly appreciates progressive new media, it remains wary of it. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, in particular, regards the online left as impractical and counterproductive. While Communications Director Anita Dunn and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs both have worked hard to make new media a fixture of the Obama communications strategy, the West Wing favors the old media guard -- granting them access and, in the case of Harwood, anonymous quotes in attempts to advance its agenda.