An Open Letter To Robert Gibbs

Dear Bob,

That was quite the little tantrum you had yourself there on Monday. A little (OK, considerably) whiny for my taste, but hey: to each his own. Far be it from me to suggest strategy to you, or disagree with your choice of approach. I’m just an insignificant liberal base voter, after all. Though I have to tell you, Bob, in the abstract, it certainly added some nice comic irony to your otherwise rather hamhanded rant to realize I was hearing a guy who’s literally both a professional mouthpiece and professional Democrat waxing petulant about “the professional left.” In fact, that might’ve been a real rib-tickler, if your comments themselves hadn’t been so (intentionally?) inflammatory.

To be clear, though, I doubt your comments (as reported) truly were intentional, at least in the sense of being actually premeditated, since it’s clear you got your ears pinned back – er…I mean, you “wanted to clarify things” – so soon after the release of the article in The Hill. That makes your initial diatribe seem more like the result of not getting enough sleep, or a fight with your wife right before camera-time, rather than a calculated and deeply-believed set of statements. Personally, I find that to be good news, because it would have been even more depressing than it already was to hear your comments, if I thought they’d been pre-planned and intentional.

I also found it noteworthy that you took great pains to differentiate (even in your snarky first draft in The Hill) between those whom you were bellyaching about as “the professional left,” and those whom you described as the “progressives who organized, campaigned, raised money and ultimately voted for Obama.” Some observers who are either more perceptive or more cynical than I have already opined, as Digby put it:

…let’s not be so precious about this. Gibbs was referring to criticism from the left in general, not just cable commentators. And that means you and me and Paul Krugman and gay rights groups and the ACLU anyone else who is frustrated by the administration’s political strategy and ideological/policy failure. They aren’t alone.

If Digby’s guess is correct and that’s true; if you were truly trying to backhandedly slam the actual base of liberal voters in the country under the false and deceptive cover of pretending it was all directed at cable hosts and a few inside-the-beltway liberal careerists, then on your own conscience be it for lying thusly. Me, I won’t speculate on that. I’ll take you at your word(s); that you meant those insults for who you said you meant them for.

But you know what the problem with doing that is, Bob – with taking you at your word(s)? Your words leave no room in them for me and thousands like me.

I am not a creature of Washington. I am not a paid activist or journalist. I live in suburban Atlanta. I have a wife, a son and a daughter, a dog and a cat. Our kids go to a decent, but cash-strapped public school. We’re homeowners, though like most people, the bank owns way more than we do. I’m as liberal as the day is long, and have been ever since I can remember. That means I’m in general favorably-disposed to Democratic ideas and politicians, because experience has shown me over time that they are almost always much closer to my own political, economic and social values than are those of the GOP.

In 2008, my wife and I sent money several times to Senator Obama (and others down the ticket), just as we did in 2004. Though I live in an area where there was little chance of electing Democrats either to congress or the White House (Tom Price is our Rep.), I worked tirelessly online to get across to other voters how dire the situation was and how badly we needed a leader like Senator Obama in the White House now.

In short, I AM the liberal base you were referring to.

But as I said, the pains you took to differentiate the liberal base of American voters from the “professional left” by describing liberal voters universally as people who “are grateful for what Obama has accomplished in a shattered economy with uniform Republican opposition and a short amount of time,” simply erases me, my wife, and the increasing number who think and speak like me from view or discussion. If the only liberals or progressives who disagree with or complain about some of President Obama’s decisions, stands and (in)action are a small, jaded and bitter core of professional, salaried cable hacks and doctrinaire beltway lefties, then according to you I simply don’t exist.

Why don’t I exist in your overly simplistic dichotomy? Because although I’m a liberal voter and not a professional, and although I have indeed cheered the strides President Obama has made for America and/or helped shepherd through congress, I’m also someone who’s simultaneously disappointed with a growing number of other decisions this White House has made, and actions your boss has taken (or not taken) on some issues. According to your formulation, only professional leftists do that…but I’m not “the professional left.” I’m disappointed with the way you guys have gone about pursuing certain goals, and with the way you appear to have let certain others languish or drop completely. I can give you a list, if you want, but let me assure you that my disappointment and opposition to some of your actions (or inactions) does not stem from being on drugs, or wanting to abolish the Pentagon, or thinking Dennis Kucinich wouldn’t be liberal enough as President. More than anything, though – and it’s astonishing that I apparently need to point this out to a guy whose living currently depends on winning elections – let me assure you that I do indeed exist.

What my opposition to some of your administration’s actions and policies means, therefore, is that – whether you were intending to or not, or even whether or not you were aware of it – you most definitely were talking about me and other liberal base voters like me when you teed off in The Hill. I’ll try to put this as simply as I can: I’ve opposed President Obama’s policies when I thought they were wrong, and supported them (even enthusiastically cheered them) when I’ve thought they were right. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why that’s even controversial, let alone something that would cause a man who’s paid to choose his words carefully when he speaks ex cathedra for the most powerful man on earth, to make such a boorish ass of himself on the record. Hell, Bob – isn’t that what each of us is SUPPOSED to do: enthusiastically support politicians when they make decisions we think are right, and speak out when they make ones we think are wrong? If that makes me a “lefty,” so be it; but despite the fact that you apparently believe that only jaded, paid “pros” have complaints or are anything but grateful and enthusiastic, bear in mind that although I’m a progressive, I’m certainly not a professional one. And that’s why I say there’s no room for me in your inaccurate formulation.

And you know what? Whether you like it or not, due to the actions of your administration, there’s a growing number of us out here, Bob: people like me, who stay plugged in, who read source materials and think for ourselves and recognize that representative government demands involvement from its citizens not just once every couple of years, but on an ongoing basis. People who’ve been liberal all their lives and who supported President Obama in 2008 with their time, money and votes…but who also have a growing list of disagreements with some of the administration’s actions (or sometimes, inaction).

If I had to speculate, I’d guess that the reason for the ill-chosen and angry nature of your outburst is that perhaps, on some level, you actually do know very well that non-professional, regular liberal base voters who have a growing list of objections to Obama administration policies do indeed exist in growing numbers and diminishing enthusiasm. And I’m guessing that knowledge both terrifies and angers you (certainly enough to cause a tantrum like the one you threw on Monday), mostly because you haven’t yet figured out a good way to deal with it. As Ezra Klein said on Monday in the Washington Post, I can certainly understand your personal sense of frustration: being part of Team Obama has been an enormous part of your life personally for several years. You’re very personally invested in Team Obama’s success, and perhaps more than a little protective when you perceive threats to it. Yet at the same time, you’re also aware, in a way that professional Democrats such as yourself may not have been prior to 2000 (or at least may not have taken seriously), that every vote truly DOES matter. And that means, whether you like it or not – and you clearly don’t like it – you also grasp on some level that you NEED the base, and you can’t take them for granted. When 537 votes plus Antonin Scalia decides the fate of the country for eight years in an election in which tens of millions of citizens voted, it’s gotta give you and your team pause — and well it should.

However, that’s why – as Ezra also observed – I have a much harder time understanding why you’d voice your frustration to the press. It’s genuinely puzzling, quite aside from being offensive. If the election of 2000 showed you in the starkest of terms that the votes of the liberal base aren’t simply an electoral “gimme” for even the highest elected Democrats, then I truly can’t fathom how, ten years later, nobody on Team Obama appears to have figured out a way to integrate and respond to substantive criticism from within the liberal base that doesn’t involve either hectoring or attempting to frighten them. Could it really be, as you put it in one of your “reclarifications” in the wake of the Hill article, that you genuinely believe no liberal base voters will stay home on election day, “because I think what’s at stake in November is too important to do that.” Are you sure? Just how smart IS it, Bob, for someone in your position to give even a hint of appearing to lecture the base that they ought to be grateful, and that you’re owed and expect their vote because the alternative would be worse?

To be fair to you, you’re right when you say that what’s at stake this November IS extremely important. But unfortunately (for you), the lesson of 2000, which I think you’ve internalized and which is now causing you such consternation, is that the more you disappoint the liberal base (even if they support and cheer some of your successes and even if they agree that a return to GOP rule would be a disaster – which they do), the more liberal base voters WILL become discouraged and just stay home. Or even vote for a third party candidate who they finally, reluctantly, conclude better matches their own views. 90,000 people in Florida in 2000 voted for Ralph Nader; far more than enough to overcome even the most pessimistic recount assumptions. Had those votes gone to Gore, there would have been no recount. And who knows how many more simply were too unenthused about their choices to even bother on that fateful election day? I’m not saying either of those actions is right, I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m saying it’s simple math, math which applies to your administration as much as it did to candidate Gore’s campaign. Namely: with each fresh disappointment or failure to either produce results or in some cases, to even give it your all, a few more liberal base voters will become disillusioned enough to sit it out. Probably not even as a conscious decision, but rather simply through frustration and loss of hope. Exactly how many will do so each time you disappoint the base? I’ve no idea, of course. But I’m sure you know instinctively that it won’t take too many such events to add up to 537. And that might once again be a big enough number, in a country already very ideologically divided, to cost you seats this fall. Maybe even enough to cost President Obama his own seat in two years. I’d have thought such a realization would be enough to make you bite your tongue whenever you were tempted to give interviews to the effect that the base owes your boss gratitude and votes, but I guess not.

Just so we’re clear, Bob, let me make sure you understand my own position on this: I can’t imagine voting for the GOP this fall – if indeed I ever could. And, as of now, I’m on balance more happy with your administration’s actions than I am unhappy. So I won’t be staying home on election day; not this fall, and not in 2012 (though two years is a long way off yet). But, once again, there are plenty of us liberal base voters out here who are neither professional politicians nor journalists nor pundits, who were and are Obama supporters, but who also have disagreed with and been disappointed in some of President Obama’s decisions. And although those of us like me who fall into that category have learned first-hand over time that official Washington’s perennial favorite sport seems to be “hippie-punching,” that doesn’t mean we’re OK with it. We’re NOT OK with being taken for granted and used as a punching bag by professional Democrats like you, so you can prove your bona fides to Republicans whose votes you’ll never get anyway; show ’em that you and your boss aren’t some flaming lefties yourselves. And we’re not OK with our leaders or their staff pretending we don’t exist at all or at the very least don’t matter, especially when we’re aware that you know we DO matter.

I’ve enjoyed seeing you up on the dais behind the podium in front of the gaggle, Bob, especially after some of the previous inhabitants of your office. But frankly, the contempt for your own base – including me, whether you intended that or not – which dripped from nearly every snide utterance of yours in the Hill’s article convinces me that you should offer – and President Obama should accept – your resignation.

I just hope the views you expressed on this aren’t widely shared in the White House, as you seemed to hint yesterday that they were, when you took a few brief questions on it. Because if your views are widely shared inside the White House, especially if you or others return to this ill-advised, imperious and dismissive theme of yours from Monday, then the one potential upside I can see is that the White House can stop worrying about whether you’ll continue to experience diminishing enthusiasm and decreased support: you absolutely WILL – you can plan on it. That’s the downside. I know you know what I’m about to say, but you appear perhaps to have temporarily forgotten it, which is why I’m reminding you: you guys work for the American people. You’re our leaders, but it’s on that whole “informed consent of the governed” basis. We pay your salary and entrust the direction of our country to you. And as I’ve said before, it shouldn’t come as a shock to you or anyone else in the White House that when we see you taking the country in a direction we don’t agree with on any given issue, we not only reserve the right but consider it our duty to criticize and make our displeasure known and our voices heard. That doesn’t just apply to the tea partiers, it applies perhaps especially to those of us who pay attention, who care, and who consider ourselves among your staunchest supporters and most natural allies.

For myself, I can’t imagine personally running for President; not only do I not have the profile for it, I wouldn’t want the job. Wags over the years have wondered who in their right mind would want to be President, when it seems to consist of spending most of two years living on the road, eating bad food and sleeping in uncomfortable hotels away from your family, endlessly promoting yourself while the national media and your opposition sift through your trash and your personal history looking for embarrassing bits of dirt about you, your staff and even your family, all for a slim chance to actually reach the White House and immediately be blamed for every problem in the universe. Viewed that way, you guys and every other past administration ought to get a medal just for having been willing to endure such an extended ordeal. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to try to endure it. Nevertheless, the reason you guys don’t get medals for it is because each of you knew full well what you were getting yourselves into when you sought out your respective jobs. That goes for you as well as for the President. You guys knew coming in that, in many ways, a President’s job (and those of his cabinet and staff) are what people mean by the old cliché “yours is a thankless job.”

So you’ll have to pardon us if we don’t thank you, not to put too fine a point on it.

And, Bob? Don’t look so surprised when people like me – ordinary liberal voters whom you apparently thought were (or you thought should be) behind you no matter what you do – criticize Team Obama when we think it’s gone wrong or failed. I’m genuinely sad to see this apparently comes as a surprise to you, Bob, but we over here in the liberal base aren’t like the GOP base: we don’t value loyalty over progress, and we don’t place party above country. To the degree your administration does what we want, you’ll get our support and our attaboys. But you’re not entitled to those things up front, on credit, and you certainly don’t get them no matter what you do.

You’re a baseball fan, Bob, so let me close with an analogy I hope you’ll find easy to understand. A long time ago, when Tommy Lasorda was still manager of the Dodgers, the team was having one of its rare years when not only did they not place first in their division, but they had a truly poor record. I can’t remember the specific year. But I do remember vividly hearing about Lasorda being interviewed on one of those sports chat programs. He was apparently grousing about the team’s performance enough that even the show’s host wound up feeling a little bad at the way Lasorda was going on and on. So the host spoke up and said something to the effect of: “hey, c’mon, don’t you think you’re being a little hard on the team? I mean, give ’em a break: they’re trying their best.” Want to know what Lasorda’s response was? It’s the reason this has stuck in my mind all these years. A lot of people, me included, if rebuked that we were being too harsh on someone, would tone it down a bit. Not Lasorda. His response to that host’s suggestion that he was being hard on the team, since they were trying hard was: “Aw, BULLSHIT. I could get three dozen truck drivers out here, and pay them each a couple hundred thousand bucks a year – which is a lot less than most of my players make – and they’d try their guts out for fourteen hours a day for that kind of money, if I asked them to. These guys aren’t being paid this kind of money to try hard, they’re being paid to WIN.”

I know the salary parallel doesn’t apply; no one goes into politics at this level for the world-beating paycheck. But – again – you all asked for this job, you worked hard and sacrificed to get it, and you understood going in that the reason you were given the job by majority acclaim is because enough people agreed on election day that you were the best choice to go in there and WIN, not just manufacture excuses, or give in to an increasingly lunatic GOP, or sometimes even violate the values we hold dear.

So although I still think you should resign for displaying such a distasteful arrogance and insulting sense of entitlement regarding the loyalties and votes of your base voters, if, as you indicated, you are planning to stay on, then I urge you to remember Tommy Lasorda’s insight, and put on your big-boy training pants, quit whining and man up….then get back out there and try to help win a few more. You know, like we elected you to do? Thanks.

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