Gibbs’ “Professional Left” Complaints, Better Left Unsaid

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs riled the Obama administration’s progressive critics, complaining about the latter to Sam Youngman of The Hill.  Within Youngman’s Aug. 10 post, Gibbs makes his frustration with the “profressional left” plain, suggesting “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon…  They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”

Gibbs was particularly irritated by critics whom, he asserts, have likened Obama to his predecessor.  “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush,” said Gibbs.  “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush…Those people ought to be drug tested.  I mean, it’s crazy.”

Gibbs had to explain his comments before the day was out.  In an attempt to “walk back” his “inartful” remarks, Gibbs issued a tacit acknowledgement that he may have made a mistake.  Greg Sargent posted the text of Gibbs’ statement, regarding which, Sargent noted:

Gibbs’s general message seems to be that the left’s criticism risks being counterproductive and could imperil the Dems’ broader agenda. But at the same time, in that last graf Gibbs is clearly conceding that White House attacks on the left are equally counterproductive.

(More on the “last graf” below)

Gibbs is way off target (with one exception):

There has been a lot of thoughtful commentary about Gibbs’ gripes about the “professional left,” but Steve Benen was on target, commenting Aug. 10 at Political Animal.  Benen acknowledges that both, Gibbs and the administration’s left-flank critics, have valid grievances; however, lashing out publicly as Gibbs did was a mistake:

Even if Gibbs is genuinely frustrated, and even if he has reason to be, where’s the upside in criticism like this, when the WH press secretary’s focus should be on President Obama’s accomplishments and Republicans’ descent into madness? Gibbs no doubt finds it deeply unhelpful when some on the left trash the White House and dampen enthusiasm of voters Democrats clearly need, but by blasting the “professional left,” Gibbs only offers additional rhetorical ammunition to those same liberals who will keep trashing the White House.

Worse, he’s painted with far too broad a brush…

Indeed, what or whomever comprises the “professional left” isn’t made clear by Gibbs.  That lack of specificity is unfortunate. It belies the notion that progressive critics of the White House are somehow acting in concert to subvert the administration’s efforts.  As WH press secretary — what must be a really, really unpleasant gig under any administration — I’m sure Gibbs probably feels that way.

I can empathize.  The media environment in which the Obama administration finds themselves seems a perpetual disadvantage as of late.  Actually, the conservative media’s ability to act in concert is what much of  the “professional left” has been actively combating since before Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy.  That fight requires a great deal of time and effort, and it is, no doubt, a contributing factor for Gibbs’ very legitimate complaint:  that the left has been unwilling to give the Obama administration credit for its accomplishments thus far.

Fortunately, there are many individuals working to remedy this oversight.  An influential Twitter user known as Shoq is the focal point for a crowd-sourcing effort tasked with documenting the Obama administrations achievements.

Via Obama’s Achievement Center:

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.

The list is particularly impressive when you consider the near uniform opposition and obstruction of the Congressional Republicans.  Further, the Obama administration does deserve commendation, not just from the “professional left,” but from any objective observer.

Gibbs asking for something which will not be forthcoming:

Glenn Greenwald posted some harsh criticism for Gibbs’ remarks that is well worth reading.  I was particularly taken with his update regarding Gibbs’ follow up statement.  Greenwald draws attention to the statement’s final paragraph (Greenwald’s emphasis):

So 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 is asking for something the “professional left” can’t give him.

First off, no one is turning back, and there isn’t a single ‘professional lefty’ who isn’t acutely aware of what is at stake if the Democrats lose control of the Congress in 2010 or the White House in 2012.

And again, Obama’s achievements do deserve a more prominent place in political-media discourse, but if it is Gibbs’ expectation that progressive commentators should dutifully align in agreement with the Obama White House, then Gibbs is fooling himself, perhaps maintaining a false equivalence between today’s “professional left” and the right-wing media echo chamber during the Bush administration.

Today’s conservative propaganda is no longer limited to a supporting role.  The constant flow of fiction that erupts from right-wing blogs, which bleeds into conservative radio and cable commentary, eventually amplified by mainstream news outlets (a la Shirley Sherrod) is a much greater hindrance to White House messaging than the pesky “professional left” could ever be.


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Obama Staff image via Executive Office of the POTUS, by way of Wikimedia Commons.


Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y.5 years ago

Gibbs made an unprofessional left turn.

As W.H. spokesman, you have to be thicker than rhino hide.

Judith S.
Judith S.6 years ago

Exactly. So many people may not have left his base if he had not appeared to be catering to the Republican's wishes at the expense of his own Democratic party. It is okay to negotiate, but you have to remember who it was that voted you in and what they voted you in for. Had he done that, we would have universal health care right now, not this obscene version of health care that reflects only what was good for the rich Republicans.

John N.
John Nester6 years ago

It wasn't the Professional Left that either Gibbs or Obama should be worrying about. It was the Independents and Moderates that left the Party in droves. Unfortunately, Obama hasn't the savy to understand who his true friends or enemies truly arwe. He insults the Base and may capitulate to the Republicans to such an extent as to allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest to be extended. A travesty!

lyn L.
l L.6 years ago


lyn L.
l L.6 years ago

I understand exactly what gibbs meant . I turned on the Tv one day and heard people who I thought were in the same fight for the country with the dems as dems and they acted like friends of the republican party. Not only that it was so awful I became afraid that the President was dead cause I had not seen him in days. So I called my representative to ask what is going on? Cause this is what is happening in the news. Fortunately the president made an appearance and the professional media toned down some. Whose paying who? I don't know it is scARY.

C. G.
C. G.6 years ago


C. G.
C. G.6 years ago


Chris L.
Chris L.6 years ago

Where will we get our entertainment if Gibbs goes? He is one of the few things I have enjoyed about the Obama adminstration.

Diana Brooks
Diana Brooks6 years ago

He didn't have to be so brash and condenscending. What? he trying to say all progessives are potheads and anti-military state? Single payer healthcare plans are what progessives are calling for and a end to business as usually for our nation's military elite-thats all! He need to be drug tested...judging by his rant.

Chris L.
Chris L.6 years ago

jane do you promise because I will start the campaign to keep Gibbs now. I really do think he has a life in stand up when this is all over.