Milbank on Robert Gibbs and the ‘Professional Left’

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs generated a huge controversy by slamming the “professional left” for being too critical of the Obama administration. People who compare Obama to Bush”ought to be drug tested,” according to Gibbs. Responses to the Gibbs remarks can be found almost anywhere you look–Glenn Greenwald’s post provides perhaps the most thorough reaction.

In the corporate media, moving to the right and bashing the Democratic base is constantly offered up as a smart move for Democratic politicians. So it was not a surprise when Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank offered a defense of Gibbs’ comments (8/12/10):

Gibbs and his colleagues have reason to be frustrated by the constant carping from the professional and semi-pro left. The Gulf oil spill has been plugged, and three-quarters of the oil is gone. Combat in Iraq is ending in a matter of days. Healthcare reform has been enacted. The auto industry is recovering, the bank bailout funds have been repaid, and a depression was averted. Yet the president, instead of getting credit, has received the sort of criticism from his unruly base that the right never bestowed on George W. Bush.

That’s a pretty unconvincing case. The fact that the oil spill “has been plugged” is irrelevant; progressives disagreed with Obama’s pro-drilling stance, his choice of interior secretary, the administration’s failure to address existing problems at the Minerals Management Service (which oversees offshore drilling) and the degree to which the White House seemed either disengaged on this issue or acting more on BP’s behalf than the public’s.

“Combat in Iraq is ending in a matter of days”? That would be a surprise. If Milbank means the U.S. troop withdrawal, then yes that is happening. That policy was a continuation of George W. Bush’s drawdown plan. The massive troop increase in Afghanistan, meanwhile, was opposed by the left–and is unmentioned in the column.

On healthcare, the left’s critique (familiar to everyone who followed the debate) was that the White House stripped out the most progressive aspects of the reform bill, such as the public option (never mind the failure to even raise single-payer as a serious option).

The fact that bailout funds “have been repaid” does not address the criticism that the subsequent Wall Street/financial sector reforms were weak, or that the bailout itself was structured to benefit certain Wall Street giants (Goldman Sachs, for instance).

Averting a depression is, of course, a good thing; the criticism from the left is that the federal government hasn’t done enough to combat unemployment, and that the economic stimulus was smaller than it needed to be (a decision launched in a futile attempt to attract GOP support).

Looking back to this post on the FAIR Blog, I was reminded that Milbank was defending the Obama White House against left-wing agitators back in December. His main point then was that Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war “is above all a pragmatic, nonideological strategy.” Opposing it, then,is crazy; Obama supporters should instead “applaud this sort of thoughtful, methodical leadership.” Milbank singled out Michael Moore, Arianna Huffington and Code Pink for not having the good sense to support a president who does something they fundamentally disagree with. It was a strange argument then, and it’s a strange argument now. But it’s not surprising that Beltway pundits would approve of Gibbs’ base-bashing.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.