The amazing thing about Robert Gibbs’s nonsensical attack on the “professional left” is that on most of the major disagreements between the White House and its left-leaning critics, the left has been proven right time and time again. What the left wants has been proven not only to be better policy but also better politics.
Let’s take, for example, the stimulus. Critics on the left criticized it for being too small, too poorly directed (i.e., too many tax cuts) and falsely inflated by Republicans out to increase the price tag (with a $100 billion AMT patch that would have happened anyway). Also, the Obama Administration underestimated the size of the downturn while over-promising how much the stimulus would help.
On every count, the left-leaning critics were right.
The stimulus was too small. Even according to the Administration’s own projections, they completely underestimated the size of the problem and did huge political damage by promising to keep unemployment below eight percent. This damaged Democrats in two important ways. The first is that by over-promising, they undermined popular support for the stimulus because, according to Obama’s own benchmarks, it failed. Given this failure to live up to the benchmarks, there is no surprise the majority of Americans think it was a total failure.
On an even more important level, by not preventing official unemployment from rising to 9.5 percent, the plan did huge political damage to Democrats in the midterms. During bad times, voters turn against the party in power.
Almost every warning left-leaning critics made about the health care process came to pass. They told Obama that trying to negotiate with hard-core Republicans like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) was a waste of time. Guess what? The left was proven 100 percent correct after Obama foolishly spent month after month on the “Gang of Seven” negotiations, gaining no Republican support. Instead, Grassley was claiming Obama wanted to pull the plug on Grandma. Over several months, the bill and Obama got progressively less popular. All that time could have been spent on legislation to deal with the jobs issue. The left pushed for the public option and when it was finally removed from the bill, the bill become even less popular.
Some on the left said, back in the early summer of 2009, that Democrats should use reconciliation to pass health care. After being told repeatedly that it was not a good idea, finally the left-leaning critics were again proven right when, almost a year later, Democrats had to use reconciliation to finish health care reform.
The failure to make the benefits of the new law felt right away is another place where left-leaning critics were still standing in the end. Despite the health care law being one of the biggest achievements of the Obama Administration, it remains unpopular. Its passage did little or nothing to boost Democratic poll numbers. If the law had starting delivering benefits right away to millions through something like an early Medicare buy-in, which critics like Howard Dean pushed for, there is a much better chance people in the important 50-to-65-year-old demographic would have warmed to the legislation. Front-loading more benefits could also have injected billions more of stimulus into the economy, helping to fix the problem created by the first, too-small stimulus package.
Many critics on the left, having watched the Republican Party for years, know the golden age of bipartisanship Obama wanted was a pipe dream. They told him as much, and time and time again, the GOP has proven the left-leaning critics right. Despite unprecedented attempts to reach out to the Republican minority, all Obama has gotten in return is lockstep obstructionism and a record number of filibusters (see health care). Here again, Obama was proven wrong and the “professional left” was proven right. Obama wasted a huge amount of time reaching out to Republicans and as expected, got nothing in return.
Criticism that rings true stings most deeply
Whether it was the stimulus, health care, bipartisanship or getting tough on Wall Street, the left-leaning critics have been proven right over and over again. What they wanted was not only better policy but what has often proven to be better politics.
If Obama’s left-leaning critics were repeatedly proven wrong, I don’t think you would have Administration officials publicly attacking them. If his critics had made fools of themselves by being wrong, there would be no need to try to discredit them. They would have discredited themselves. A big source of the White House’s frustration with the “professional left” is that they keep proving that President Obama and his advisers are not in fact the smartest people in the room. Or they won’t be if Rahm Emanuel or Larry Summers ever lets any of their progressive critics into the room.