Minnesota’s left generally happy with Obama, but …

Robert Gibbs shown answering a question in the White House briefing room.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Robert Gibbs shown answering a question in the White House briefing room.

WASHINGTON — White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs clearly touched a nerve when he told a Capitol Hill newspaper that many in the “professional left” aren’t giving the White House enough credit for enacting its agenda and won’t be satisfied until “we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon.”

Yes, there was a dustup about saying they ought to be drug tested, and ensuing furor over whether Gibbs should resign, but that’s been gone into in great detail already.

The whole incident has laid bare frustrations the White House has over not getting the credit it feels it deserves for major legislative victories — everything from the health care reform law, to Wall Street reform, to smaller but significant wins like the Lily Ledbetter wage equality bill that was the first President Obama signed.

Yet they also signaled that the White House is keenly aware of frustrations amongst its base that it hasn’t gone far enough or fast enough — and that many key components of the change the left had hoped to see may be left unfinished at the end of Obama’s first two years in office.

Hope and change, or hoping for change?
President Obama admitted much of that in a webcasted speech to progressive activists at Netroots Nation:

“Change hasn’t come fast enough for too many Americans, I know that,” Obama said. “It hasn’t come fast enough for me either and I know it hasn’t come fast enough for many of you who fought so hard during the election.”

“The fact is, it took years to get here — it’ll take time to get us out. We’ve known that since the beginning of our campaign. But I hope you’ll take a moment to consider all we’ve accomplished so far.”

Bill Harper, chief of staff to Rep. Betty McCollum, makes a similar case. Harper said many of Obama’s accomplishments have been reversals of the last administration’s policies, and dealing with the fallout from said policies.

“In a sense, this president hasn’t been able to work on his own agenda yet because he’s been cleaning up the messes from the previous administration,” Harper said.

Yet many of the left’s signature legislative issues will likely be left on the table at the end of this session. A carbon cap-and-trade bill cleared the House last year but is basically dead in the Senate. The votes don’t seem to be there for anything significant on immigration.

And progressives, aware that Democrats are likely to lose seats in both the Senate and the House (with the loss of their outright majority in the House a distinct possibility), want action now, while they still have 59 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House.

Trouble is, the House has been able to pass things like climate change that the Senate has not — and almost every major bill passed into law has had to be watered down before it could clear the Senate.

“The left’s frustration with temporizing by the president has received the coverage, but it is hard to believe that the left is not even more frustrated with the Senate,” said Steven Smith, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis who commutes from the Twin Cities.

“It is the Senate that creates the impression that the Democrats can’t govern,” Smith explained. “The Senate, not the White House, has gutted or delayed action on the public option, climate change legislation, immigration reform, campaign finance, and more stimulus.”

Loyalty, loyal dissent, and loyally pushing for more
Rep. Keith Ellison, responding to Gibbs’ statement, wondered to the Huffington Post why Gibbs would “want to go out and deliberately insult the president’s base” and why he would “confuse legitimate critique with some lack of loyalty.”

Because progressives say it’s not an issue of loyalty. They still like Obama, and given it to do again they’d still vote for the guy. They just think he could be doing much better.

“Overall, I’m still very happy that Obama is President,” said Eric Pusey, co-owner of MN Progressive Project, one of Minnesota’s foremost left-of-center political blogs.

“I’m glad we’ve passed health-care reform even though I support a single payer solution — anything is better than nothing,” Pusey said as an example. “I’m glad he’s listening to the non-deficit hawk economists and doing some stimulus spending. I wish he would do more.”

But Pusey’s frustrations are there too — that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell still remains the military’s official policy on gays and lesbians and that Guantanamo Bay’s detention center remains open. The president��s continuation of much of the Bush doctrines on secrecy, habeas corpus and whistleblowers, he said are “astounding” and “unconscionable.”

Pusey said his goal as a progressive is to “force [Obama] to do all the things he promised and all the things he ought to be doing. “

“He needs to be pushed.”

Smith said progressives don’t just want a change in action from this White House, they want a change in tone. Don’t go after the left, go after the right.

Rep. Keith Ellison
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Rep. Keith Ellison

“The left would like President Obama to go to battle with the Republicans more directly and more frequently,” Smith explained. “[Obama] could do more. I bet he will. But the president seems to be a conciliator by nature. He knows that the middle of the spectrum wins elections.”

Ellison, in a statement issued hours after his original comments hit the web, attempted to move the conversation forward.

“Labels matter less than the fact that progressives actually delivered support and votes for the economic recovery package, health care reform, and Wall Street reform. These accomplishments helped deliver on the Democrats’ promise to bring desperately needed change to working families across the nation.”

“Let’s pull together and continue to move past the failed policies of the Bush era. That’s what we are here to do.”

And DNC Chairman Tim Kaine summed it up this morning on MSNBC, noting the passage of major bills like healthcare and Wall Street reform but acknowledging that there’s still far more to do.

“You know, here’s who we are as Democrats — we’re impatient.”

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/16/2010 - 06:37 am.

    The Democrats won majorities in Congress by recruiting centrists to run in what had been Republican states. Those centrists won because they were able to run against George Bush, but they also won because they promised not to be traditional left wing Democrats. But the people chairing the committees, the senior Democratic leadership, are the same liberals who lost in 1994. So the Democrats, by recruiting candidates far from their own views, created a party rife with internal dissent. The new recruits had to choose between being the centrists, which they had promised to be, or supporting their president and congressional leaders.

    The leadership made no effort to shift their agenda to protect those new centrist members of congress. And now those congressmen and senators have to face an angry electorate who didn’t get the centrist agenda they were promised.
    This election, like most elections, is a referendum on incumbents. If the Democrats had taken the long view, they would have focused on job creation and financial reform (a good centrist thing to do in a recession), leaving liberal reforms for a second Obama term. Instead they acted like they needed to hurry before it all fell apart, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/16/2010 - 08:41 am.

    Much is made of George Bush’s low approval numbers, but he didn’t fall into the mid 40s, where Obama currently is, until four and a half years into his presidency. He never dropped to where Obama is now at any time during his first term.

    Bush’s drop into the 30s happened when he lost support from his own party. It was conservatives who disapproved of his massive spending on Katrina, his Medicare drug benefit, and his support of the massive new homeland security bureaucracy. It was rank and file conservatives who disapproved of his support for the $700 billion bailout bill.

    Obama never had the conservatives and he is now losing the independents. At 18 months in, all he has left are the true believers. Where do you think he’ll be in another 18 months?

  3. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/16/2010 - 10:04 am.

    Health care couldn’t wait. This is one of he biggest political accomplishments in 40 years. Massive amounts of money were thrown at it to defeat it and still massive amounts are being to spent against it. Talk to people on the short end of the stick.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/16/2010 - 11:00 am.

    If you want to win elections you need to produce some results that enough people will vote for.

    Here’s what I know, my health care will not be any more affordable or reliable even after all the reforms go into effect. One of my credit cards just raised my minimum payment due by 25%, they did this unilaterally, without notice. I’ve had three wedding clients cancel this year because they ran into financial difficulties and I’ve had to send one account to collections. Frankly, if Obama expects me to be impressed with his Health or financial reforms, and his economic stimulus, he’s in la la land. The problem with telling me it’s going to take time is as far as I can see, he’s done with health care reform, theere are no plans to revisit that during his presidency. Financial reform likewise is done. And he’s got the same guys who engineered the collapse in charge of the recovery so I see no reason hold my breath on that account.

    I disagree with Richard to some extent, I think more could have been done. They certainly had the authority and power to handle the mortgage crises more effectively, instead they engineered a bail out for the financial sector. I think a national health care plan sells itself once you pitch it, but no one even tried. And everyone hates the banks so you can’t tell me you could sell a whole raft of legislation that would have saved consumers billions of dollars, and you’d put billions of dollars back in consumers pockets, you’d probably have seen more confidence and spending. And then of course there was genius decision to end the offshore drilling moratorium three weeks before a oil rig blew up.

    The problem with the professional left is simply that it finally exists. Democrats are used to promising liberalism and then acting like Republicans without much consequence. Hopefully those days are over, but Democrats better get a clue. It’s always amazed me, the Democrats act like they don’t have a base. In contrast to Richard’s suggestion, I want the Democrats to start fighting, and keep fighting until they get liberal reforms enacted. I’d rather they’d fought for single payer and lost, and then came back year after year fighting for it until they got it. I can’t trust the Democrats because they’ll fight for something for one year, as if there’s a time limit, and then we’re stuck with the results for the next twenty years. I don’t think something is always better than nothing, especially of “something” creates a barrier to real solutions.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/16/2010 - 12:48 pm.

    Not according to the Wall Street Journal:

  6. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/16/2010 - 04:51 pm.

    I can’t speak for the whole left, but I expect I speak for many when I say of course we’re more frustrated with the Senate than with Obama. His actions we’ve disagreed with have often come from trying to get something through a Senate that Republicans have turned into a super-majoritarian body, which is not what the framers ever intended. It wasn’t meant to function differently from the House, just have a very different way of choosing members in order to compromise on disagreements over how congressmen should be selected.

    The Senate is basically dysfunctional, and needs serious reform.

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/16/2010 - 05:23 pm.

    The term “centrist” seems to equate with what are called Blue Dog Democrats – socially progressive but Republicans when it comes to money.

    The president and his “centrist” advisers took the idea of Medicare-for-All off the table, even refusing to talk with an old friend/physician from Illinois who supports it. Senator Max Baucus of Montana, Bluest of the Blue Dogs, even barred supporters from his committee meetings and cleared some changes to the law with the insurance industry’s lobbyists BEFORE discussing them with his committee. He also refused to put to a vote by the committee suggestions from senators like Rockefeller that came too close to actually putting some brakes on corporate greed.

    The legislation does include real reforms to insurance and drug company practices (which they are busily working their way around). Other than that, what we have is a right-wing solution that right-wing Republicans wouldn’t vote for because a No vote could hurt Obama.

    The Dems could just as easily have passed HR-676 without Republican votes and saved us $400 billion a year instead of spending additional trillions. We could have had a system that would leave Americans grateful for decade after decade for health care that works for everyone, as Canadians are grateful for theirs?

    Instead, the “centrists” chose to discount HR-676 from the beginning because it came from the left. And those like Gibbs chose to ridicule Dems who support it. The last thing we need is more “centrists.” The first thing we need is more Wellstones and Humphreys and both Roosevelts.

  8. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 08/16/2010 - 07:17 pm.

    I second that: we need more Wellstones, Humphreys, and Roosevelts. Not likely to get them in this climate.
    Franken might start to fill that role eventually. Klobuchar never. Maybe there are a few others who could lead us out of this dilemma.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/17/2010 - 01:07 am.

    Thank you, Ginny.

    I notice that this discussion has been mostly about domestic policy, but our foreign policy has also caused discontent for me and others who are disturbed by our actions in the world, even though we know Obama can’t overcome every negative left by Bush/Cheney/Neocons.

    He could have refused to back down on his first, spontaneous and honest description of the illegal coup in Honduras as illegal and should have denounced the subsequent election “supervised” by the military that carried out the coup on behalf of Honduras’ elite and their corporate friends in the U.S.

    He could also have directed our U.N. ambassador to sign the U.N. agreement banning the use of cluster bombs instead of letting the U.S. become one of only a handful of countries to refuse to sign. And he REALLY should have stopped the U.S. military from using cluster bombs when it secretly attacked Yemen in December on the hunt for suspected terrorists.

  10. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 08/17/2010 - 07:25 am.

    Obituaries for the Obama Presidency are pouring out. London’s Daily Telegraph’s Nile Gardiner headlined his August 12th column: “The Stunning Decline of Barack Obama: 10 Key Reasons Why the Obama Presidency Is In Meltdown.” Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich discusses “the political culture’s consensus on Obama’s presidency in June 2010: doomed,” in the August 19th New York Review of Books. The neo-con New Republic depicts Obama as a plummeting Icarus, illustrating its lead story today, on “The Unnecessary Fall: A Counter-History of the Obama Presidency.”

    New Republic senior editor John Judis: “What doomed Obama politically was the way he dealt with the financial crisis in the first six months of his presidency.” When Obama was inaugurated, the financial crisis was in full swing, and the public was “up in arms. But, instead of rallying the public against the money changers, as Roosevelt had done in his first inaugural, Obama, taking a leaf from Jimmy Carter’s infamous malaise speech, put the blame on the public as a whole…. Obama—in sharp contrast to Roosevelt in his first months—failed to push Congress to immediately enact new financial regulations or even to set up a commission to investigate fraud.”

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/17/2010 - 08:20 am.

    I can’t pin the problem on the Senate. I’m not a child, I don’t expect the President to get everything he wants or asks for from congress, but Obama didn’t even ask. I think one of the reasons congress flailed around for so long on health care is they didn’t get clear direction from the White House. Obama’s health speech was an everything but the kitchen sink affair but nothing in particular. I voted for Obama instead of Clinton because of his position on health care, and I ended up with Clinton’s health care plan. I expected Obama would demand at least a public option, maybe he gets it maybe he doesn’t, but I wanted him to fight for it. He through it under the bus before the fight even started.

    The thing is, as Michael Moore pointed out in a Keith Olberman interview a while back, it’s not like no one was suggesting alternatives. Liberal’s were telling the White house to fight for a public option if not a single payer system. They told him to go with the Swiss instead of the Japanese model of financial intervention. Liberals argued for a much larger stimulus package and more aggressive job creation. Liberals warned against putting the guys who engineered the financial system that blew up back in charge of the economy, etc. etc. And in all cases liberals turned out to be right. It’s not about centrism, it’s about making the right decisions.

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