When Robert Gibbs attacked the professional left he didn’t specify anyone by name, but the assumption was that it was cable personalities, disaffected interest groups, bloggers and online commenters.
With each passing day, I’m beginning to realize that the crux of the problem for Obama is a handful of prominent progressive bloggers, among them Glenn Greenwald, John Aravosis, Digby, Marcy Wheeler and Jane Hamsher*.
Virtually all the liberal bloggers who have taken a critical stance toward the administration have one thing in common: they place principle above party. Their complaints are exactly the same complaints they lodged against the Bush administration. Contrary to the straw man posed by Obama supporters, they aren’t complaining about pie in the sky wishes but about tangible acts and omissions, from Gitmo to Afghanistan to the environment to gay rights to secrecy and executive power.
The essence of their critique is that the White House lacks a moral compass. The instances where Obama displays a flash of moral authority – the mosque speech comes to mind – these bloggers cheer him with the same fervor as his most ardent fans.
Some will dismiss them as minor players in the wider national discourse, but two things make them a thorn in the administration’s side:
a) they have a disproportionately large influence on the political debate, with numerous readers and followers — among them major media figures
b) they develop the frames and narratives that other progressive Obama critics adopt and disseminate
In other words, they are “purists” who are giving ammunition to Republicans by acting as consistenly-principled critics of the President. Gee, that argument sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
Let me say a couple things about Peter Daou at this point. I like him. He is a good man and, even though we likely don’t share a single political belief in common, I respect him. He is as tightly connected to the Democratic Party establishment as anyone I can name, with decades of experience under his belt. Daou is, in short, a Democratic insider. He is not, however, an attack dog, so when he comes out with a claim that certain bloggers are “bringing down” the Presidency, you had better believe the administration is nigh unto panic.
I get his point. It is relatively easy for Democrats to fend off Republican criticism by using the tried and true buzz phrases that they’ve used so often that their MSM lapdogs have them set up as macros in their various word processing programs. Those same criticisms hamstring Democrats when they come from prominent Democratic bloggers. The buzz phrases don’t apply. There is no glib defense. You can’t call Jane Hamsher as tool of Big Oil or an unrepentant obsctructionist or a racist (well, I can because she is, but Daou dare not). We’ve seen exactly the same argument used by earnest Republicans who fear that criticism of Republicans will translate into ready ammunition for the left.
I’ll let Stacy McCain point out the flaw in that argument. The fault is not with the bloggers, where Daou would put it, but with the President for abandoning his promises and tossing the progressive principles that got him to the White House under the bus for another scrap of political power. It’s not as if the nutroots are in full fulmination mode against the President. No blogger has declared all-out war, though you could certainly argue that David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs have given them ample reason to do so. They are asking, reasonably, for President Obama to do what he said he’d do — to keep his part of the bargain he made with them during the campaign. Instead of blaming the nutroots for “bringing down” the administration, Daou should be blaming the administration for being so woeful that not even its most ardent supporters can shut their consciences up long enough to support it.
But that’s not the administration line these days. So the left is locked into a full-out Bleeding Kansas scenario with the administration fighting a low-level, but very bloody, battle against the guerilla forces of the progressive blogosphere. Neither side is willing to back down and we’re rapidly progressing past the point where de-escalation is a reasonable option. If they keep going as they are, and progressive ideas keep getting trashed in public opinion polls, it won’t be long before they line up and start gunning for each other in earnest. I’d guess that will happen right about November 3.