Although inadvertently perhaps, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs performed a great public service when he complained about the "professional left" that will not give this administration proper credit for its legislative accomplishments. And he insulted a wide swath of the Democratic base in the process. He apologized and later stood by his statement, but it's the type of thing you just can't take back. Not unlike that proverbial tube of toothpaste, you just can't put it back in.
This was a showdown in the making, and should be welcomed. On the one hand there's the base that worked hard to get Obama into office, and now pushes this president to do more. On the other hand, there's a White House that is simply dumbfounded. The Obama administration apparently cannot understand why its supporters are not in awe over its ability to politick, compromise, and water down great legislation into mediocre laws, without getting anything for it in return. There seems to be a sense of arrogance emanating from the White House, this attitude that the base should just be happy and stop complaining. After all, Obama is much better than Bush, and look at what he has achieved in only a little over a year and a half -- health care reform, student loan reform, a recovery act that prevented the nation from sliding into a depression, and so on.
To be sure, the accomplishments to date are considerable, and we should not ignore them. But at the same time, the base always expected, even demanded great things from this president who campaigned as a change agent. And the dire problems America is facing require some urgent, forceful, audacious leadership.
But far too often this administration appears to want to play it safe, hedge its bets. For example, the economic stimulus, however well intentioned, should have been much larger. Other times the Obama White House negotiates with itself and gives away far too much, as was the case with the public option. Or the White House will try to bargain with rabid conservatives who have no intention of working together, and would like nothing more than to bring down this presidency. And one gets the impression some of these Republicans would bring down the entire nation just to win an election.
This leads us to the issue of jobs. Part of the problem is the White House is entertaining the foolish proposition of cutting the deficit during a time of recession. At this rate, we might as well put another nail in the coffin that contains what is left of the U.S. middle class.
You know how bad it's getting here in Third World America because the mobs are coming out with the pitchforks. Now, don't get me wrong, people right now have every right to be angry. This recession is unlike any other in recent memory, certainly since the Great Depression. There is no rebound this time, no jobs magically coming back with an upturn of the business cycle, much as the tides faithfully ebb and flow each day. There is no relationship between the fortunes of Wall Street and the plight of the common folk, so it seems. And those who are at the top don't need the rest of us, except when it comes to gaining at our expense.
The handiwork of Democrats and Republicans alike, years of regressive policies have amounted to highway robbery of working people. Deregulation wrecked and plundered the economy, and eviscerated Americans' life savings and home equity. Unemployment is the highest it has been in years, and long-term employment is at disturbing levels, with nearly half of the unemployed out of work for at least six months. College graduates begin their careers in a mountain of debt but with no jobs. Moreover, a trickle-down policy has resulted in the greatest gap between rich and poor in modern history, and a nation that ranks among the least upwardly mobile of the advanced nations.
So now, what is supposedly the world's greatest nation cannot afford to keep its schools open. State and local governments are out of cash, and some localities are grounding up the streets into gravel because they can no longer afford to maintain the roads. State austerity measures--including layoffs of government workers and cutting of important programs--will only exacerbate this economic death spiral.
These are the times when hate groups and unscrupulous politicians suit up for the ugly days ahead, preying on the fears of low information Americans. Bereft of solutions, the ultra-right is doing what the ultra-right does, which is to tear apart the country with an "M-G-M." strategy: blame the Mexicans, Gays and Muslims for all your problems, with the actual or perceived threat of violence thrown in. Of course, blaming that poor undocumented worker for your plight will not help you, but isn't that what scapegoats are for? And the Fourteenth Amendment be damned, they say.
Surely, we can and should assign much blame for our woes on George W. Bush, who bankrupted the nation with two wars and a massive tax cut for the wealthy. However, Bush is no longer running for office. President Obama must realize that he will be judged if he cannot deliver on jobs, and rightly so. Progressives are trying to do him a favor by ensuring that he is not a one-term president, but he refuses to take the hint. A fighting spirit is lacking. At this rate, President Obama is well on his way down that road, despite the phalanx of incompetent empty suits found in abundance on the other side. To this extent, the base is doing what a good base should do.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt came into power after a failing Herbert Hoover who meant well, but either had the wrong ideas, or his good ideas were too little, too late. Roosevelt enacted a massive New Deal program based on relief to the unemployed, economic reform, and recovery through federal spending. The measures were sweeping, and helped cement a Democratic coalition for decades.
But as F.D.R. once told labor and civil rights leader A. Phillip Randolph during a discussion on the future of the country and the plight of African-Americans,
"You know, Mr. Randolph, I've heard everything you've said tonight, and I couldn't agree with you more. I agree with everything that you've said, including my capacity to be able to right many of these wrongs and to use my power and the bully pulpit. ... But I would ask one thing of you, Mr. Randolph, and that is go out and make me do it."
Once again, the base is making a president "do it," so to speak, for his own good and ours. The party faithful did not vote for good speeches alone, or milquetoast policies and lukewarm, half-hearted solutions to a crisis situation. Nor did they vote for "drill baby drill," or the escalation of a senseless war in Afghanistan, or Wall Street lackeys controlling the till. Certainly, they did not vote for a U.S. that spends as much on military as the rest of the world combined, as other nations beat us in expenditures for science, technology and infrastructure. But they did vote for the active role of government in making things right, as only government can do.
The "professional left" simply wants its F.D.R. in the form of Barack Obama, because that's what 2008 was all about, after all.
David A. Love is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com, and a contributor to The Progressive Media Project and theGrio. He is based in Philadelphia, and is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. His blog is davidalove.com.