Washington was hot today, and Democrats were tearing at each other's hair like a clatch of tween frenemies fighting for the front row at a Justin Bieber mall appearance.
First, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs seemed to strike out of the blue, telling The Hill:
"I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”
The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
He wasn't done yet: "They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."
Understandably, those who would totally be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich were merely head of HHS were tweaked by the press secretary's mischaracterization of their position.
So, then FireDogLake was all, "So, you have to be on drugs to want a single-payer health care plan. Was Obama on drugs in 2003?" Oh, snap!
"The "professional left" never asked Obama for the impossible," said Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, "just for what was promised during the campaign. Political realities may have forced him to under-deliver, but under-deliver he did, oftentimes in ugly fashion as we watched a broken Senate take good legislation and water it down to near-irrelevancy. Meanwhile, the White House was always there, enabling the obstructionism of the Joe Liebermans and Max Baucuses of the caucus. So what's left? Obama may remain popular, but there is a real intensity gap that threatens Democratic congressional majorities this fall. That has nothing to do with the "professional left", and everything to do with the broader base."
I know someone who's off the invite list for the "American Taliban" party.
Then, Robert Gibbs totally didn't even get to do the press briefing today because he was "sick," and was replaced instead by his younger, more placid deputy Bill Burton. Burton, as if to say, "Yeah we meant it, and we'll say it to your face again," maintained that the press secretary "answered honestly" when asked about the "professional left."
By that time, one liberal Congressman had already called on Gibbs to resign, and vowed never to sit at the same lunch table with him again:
"I think that'd be fair, yeah. That'd be fair, because this isn't the first time. And, again, people of all political shades worked very hard to help the president become the president. Why would he want to go out and deliberately insult the president's base? And why would he confuse legitimate critique with some sort of lack of loyalty. Isn't this what the far right does? Punishes people who are not ideologically aligned with President Bush?"
And, Gibbs was busy saying, "Can't we all just get along?" Taking the tack of his boss, he blithely insulted a large segment of the voting population, blamed cable news, and then asked everyone to suck it up and make nice with him again, you know, for the good of the country and stuff. He called his words "inartful," forgetting apparently that his entire job is to find artful words in interviews with Hill reporters.
The White House assured Huffington Post the walk-back statement was undertaken "sincerely," which I'm sure made everyone feel better.
Gibbs' comment about his cable news habit made me wonder why a grown man can't regulate his TV watching in such a way that it doesn't interfere with his job performance, but it made Huffington Post wonder if Gibbs was lashing out over a segment on MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan's show:
Shortly before he sat down Friday afternoon with The Hill's Sam Youngman, a segment aired on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan show (ostensibly a friendlier network to the president) in which the state-aid package that Congress was considering was deemed a bailout for the teacher unions.
Or, wondered the White House's wounded allies, is the White House just distancing itself from the left wing as a matter of pure politics, to better woo moderates? Hey, it wouldn't be the first time a Democrat in a tight spot thought that was a good idea.
Meanwhile, high-profile liberal political consultant Peter Daou (most recently of Hillary's campaign) made his dismay with the White House clear on Twitter:
Then, stuff got real. Peter Daou again:
You want petty? @billburton44 blocks me on Twitter after I criticize Obama (he was a friend and colleague at Kerry campaign)
At which point, Ben Smith at Politico had to intervene to prevent a tiff that would seriously have marred yearbook-signing day:
Whew, crisis averted! In other news, someone on the left bought www.ProfessionalLeft.com, ensuring that this is not the last we hear of this dust-up.
It's almost as much drama as that day George Bush implied conservative critics didn't "want to do what's right for America."
How'd that kind of thing work out for base-rallying?