It’s the hubris, stupid.
The decision by the Obama White House to attack “professional” liberal opinion makers on Monday and then double-down on the attack yesterday — and ladling on a little extra arrogance, just to make the “fuck you” read loud and clear — may well go down as a seminal moment in political history not unlike Pres. Clinton’s finger-wagging assertion that he “did not have sex with that woman — Monica Lewinksy.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs — who riled the president’s base with his complaints about criticism from the “professional left” on Monday — could have made the story go away on Tuesday by apologizing and letting it go. Instead, asked during his daily briefing if the White House feared his remarks could alienate liberals so that they stayed at home in November, Gibbs said, “I don’t think they will. I think what is at stake in November is too important.”
Given the environment, the White House appears to be playing with fire. It’s clear from the polling that all the energy in the electorate is in the Republicans’ base, rebranded now as tea baggers. And while liberals still support the president — a poll released just before Gibbs’ attack on the left found that Pres. Obama had an 85 percent job approval among his base — support for the Democrats is flagging among independents.
If the goal is to continue Democratic control of Congress, every vote counts in November, so why alienate even 5 percent of the base?
Why indeed. Aside from the merits, you have to wonder if the White House wants the GOP to take control of Congress. It’s a risky strategy, but there’s little doubt that if Republicans take charge next year, their fiddling-while-Rome-burns agenda — impeachment hearings, repealing the 14th Amendment, killing Social Security and Medicare and the rest — will make them even more unpopular than their 24 percent approval now.
If congressional Republicans’ approval were to stall at around 20 percent going into the general election, it would certainly help grease the skids for Obama’s reelection in 2012. The president could hang Leader McConnnell and Speaker Boehner around his opponent’s neck, the way Clinton-Gore saddle Bob Dole with Newt Gingrich in 1996.
Personally, I like that sort of Machiavellian strategizing, and I hope that’s what’s going on here. But in light of the White House bungling on offshore drilling and Shirley Sherrod, I have my doubts.
In answer to Gibbs, Rachel Maddow devoted most of her show last night to profiling three top-notch members of the military — U.S. Army Capt. Jonathan Hopkins, U.S. Military Academy Cadet-Sgt. Katherine Miller and U.S. Air Force Lt. Victor Fehrenbach — whose stellar careers have been ended by the Pres. Obama’s refusal to issue a stop-loss order to stop the Pentagon’s expulsions of gay servicemembers until Congress votes on ending DADT during the lameduck session this winter.
Focusing three or four segments on a single topic is a change in format for Maddow’s show. She made it clear why she was doing it when she said this:
MADDOW: At this point, I’m sure in certain quarters in Washington, we are being discussed as “unseemly” for interviewing people whose military careers the commander-in-chief is currently, right now, ending, despite all his professed urgency to the contrary. I look forward eagerly to the complaints.
>> i think those are accomplishments we all should be proud of regardless of whether it encompasses 100% of what we had wanted to begin with.
>> what about the rest, gay rights, guantanamo bay.
>> it is all things the president made commitments on and in the process of doing. we have a process under way with the pentagon to make changes that the president outlined before the came. don’t ask, don’t tell, as someone running for the senate in 2004. we have a process good on overturning don’t ask, don’t tell.
>> what do you say to progressives who say if that is their attitude i’m staying home in november?
>> i don’t think they will. i think what is at stake in november is too important.
>> on tonight’s show you met u.s. army captain jonathan hopkins, catherine miller and lieutenant colonel victor ferenbach who are having their careers ended. the money we have spent on victor ferenbach’s training is over. the decade of nvestment that built jonathan j. hopkins into a striker brigade commander that is over. the $350,000 per cadet training we invested on catherine miller who is a yale scholar who could bench press me that is over. they want to serve. that is why they signed up. as we take our time winding down this policy that everyone says will be ending, as we shamble toward justice maybe we as a country are meanwhile continuing to put the lives of these individuals through the meat grinder.
colonel ferenbach filed his lawsuit because his legal team thinks his discharge orders are due any minute. captain hopkins was discharged this week. this policy that everyone says it is going to end when they get around to it. what is the process? why are we kicking people out while we are waiting for the views of the commander in chief the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. if you are changing the policy soon why not hold off the ruin nation of lives under the policy now? why not? i’ll tell you why because that would take some political capital. that would take guts. and liberals according to this white house ought to be drug tested. stop complaining and be happy for what you have. lieutenant dan choi, colonel ferenbach, sbt hopkins, they are expendable. watch their careers destroyed but stop complaining about it.
i talked with gail collins on how to motivate your natural base is fear. to make your base afraid of what the other side has to offer. that is true. that works on both sides. it works for conservatives about liberals and liberals about conservatives. one other way. one less soul sucking way to motivate your base and win an election and keep winning elections and have history look kindly upon you is to get your base to cheer for you, not just to cheer for you, not just to cheer against someone else. to see you standing up, not just to bad guys with worse ideas, but you standing up for what is right because you know it is right. because we know you know it’s right even though you know standing up for it is hard. that is how you regain the enthusiasm of your base. that is how you win the respect of your base. that is how you win the respect of the country. admit, that is how you win your own self-respect, too. if don’t ask, don’t tell is going to end, the president could stop enforcement of the policy pending that change. why isn’t he?