No doubt about it. In just 20 months, President Obama has accomplished more than any president since FDR. But he doesn't get enough credit for it. Not even from some of his friends on the left.
That's gotta be frustrating, to Obama and members of his administration. And, indeed, that frustration boiled over in a revealing interview Robert Gibbs gave to Sam Youngman of The Hill newspaper.
Admitting he watches "too much cable news," Gibbs deplored the constant negative carping he hears about Obama from commentators he dismisses as members of "the professional left." Those critics won't be satisfied until we have Canadian-style health care and shut down the Pentagon, he fumed. In fact, he added, they'd still be complaining if Dennis Kucinich were president. Their criticism is so crazy, Gibbs suggested, that some of them should be "drug tested." Although, at a subsequent press briefing, Gibbs declined my invitation to name names, Youngman said he was talking about, among others, Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann – and me. Ouch!
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Now, first, let me acknowledge that I am a proud member of "the professional left." I'm a liberal Democrat and proud of it. I readily expound my liberal political philosophy on radio and television, and in print. And I'm also an unabashed Obama supporter.
In that capacity, I'm pretty clear about my responsibility as a member of the "liberal media." It is not, as Gibbs suggests, to be a robotic cheerleader for President Obama or the Democratic Party. Nor is it to be a predictable naysayer, always finding bad and never good.
Under President Obama, liberals, indeed, have much to be grateful for. The end of this month will mark the end of combat missions in Iraq. July was the seventh straight month with positive job growth. Two new left-of-center justices sit on the Supreme Court. The American auto industry is back, stronger than ever. America is back from the brink of recession. New restrictions on Wall Street are in place. Ninety-five percent of Americans now have access to basic health care. That's a pretty good record, and that's just for starters.
Hats off to President Obama for delivering on those issues. But there are other legitimate issues, just as important, where he has not yet delivered. The discredited policy of "don't ask, don't tell" remains in effect, as does the Defense of Marriage Act. There's been no effort on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act. Winding down operations in Iraq was met with ratcheting up combat missions in Afghanistan. And even health-care reform, the president's signature accomplishment, while far better than the status quo, is weaker than it could have been without a public plan option. That's partly because of GOP obstinacy and partly because of White House foot-dragging.
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So, given the president's impressive, but nonetheless mixed record, what are members of the professional left supposed to do? I believe our role is twofold: to offer praise where praise is due; but, at the same time, not to hesitate to criticize when President Obama falls short of what he promised. That's not being disloyal, that's just doing our job. And that's what I've tried to do for the first 20 months of the Obama administration.
There are two factors that distinguish that constructive approach from the destructive, hate-Obama crowd. In the end, after pushing as hard as possible for perfection, professional lefties will always come around and accept reality. In the health-care debate, for example, Shultz, Olbermann and I all campaigned hard for the public plan option, even after President Obama abandoned it. But we supported the final bill because it still offered a good foundation to build on.
Second factor: When push comes to shove, there's no doubt what team we're rooting for. Any momentary disappointment with President Obama is far, far outweighed by the obvious danger of reverting back to the policies of George Bush and Dick Cheney. To that end, fear not, liberal radio and TV hosts will not only vote for Democrats, but also do everything possible to help them get elected and maintain Democratic control of both the House and Senate.
Which is why Gibbs made a mistake in admonishing the "professional left." Now's the time for the White House to motivate its base, not insult it.