Jonathan Chait

Is Obama Meaner To Liberals Than To Conservatives?


Over at Daily Kos, David Sirota says President Obama is meaner to the left than he is to Republicans: 

Yesterday at OpenLeft, I wrote a post about how the Obama administration unduly shies away from confrontation with Republicans and conservatives. Whether this is a product of the president's personal fetishization of conciliation or a product of a right-of-center political ideology none of us can know because none of us are in his head. But it's a pretty obvious statement of fact that the president has reflexively tried to avoid confrontation with the GOP, even when confrontation is necessary.

That said, one thing I failed to mention in my post yesterday should also be equally obvious: This president goes out of his way to be very confrontational towards progressives.

Periodically, we get clear examples of this. To name a few: There was the time that the Obama administration openly threatened progressive Democrats if they didn't agree to vote for more Afghanistan War funding; There was the time that President Obama publicly insulted progressives by claiming the public option wasn't important; There was the time that the Obama administration aggressively fought progressive legislation to audit the Federal Reserve; And, of course, there is the White House's over-the-top interventions in local Democratic primaries on behalf of corporate conservative candidates in their campaigns against progressive standard-bearers.

Okay, we have four examples here of the White House doing extremely nasty things to the left:

1. "Openly threatening" House Democrats who don't vote for the Afghanistan war bill. When you click on the link, it turns out that "openly" is quite a stretch:

The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won't get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday.

"We're not going to help you. You'll never hear from us again," Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen. She wouldn't say who is issuing the threats, and the White House didn't immediately return a call. [UPDATE: White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says Woolsey's charge is not true.]

Woolsey said she herself had not been pressured because the White House and leadership know she's a firm no vote. But she had heard from other members about the White House pressure.

I'm sure there was some pressure, but this is a second-hand accusation that the administration denies, and which cites no specific examples of either anybody who exerted or received pressure. I'm sure the administration was lobbying for the war funding.

2. "President Obama publicly insulted progressives" -- this turns out to consist of a set of talking points from Organizing for America that contained the sentence, "The public option is just one small part of health insurance reform." That is the entirety of the way that "President Obama" "publicly" "insulted" progressives.

3. "[T]he time that the Obama administration aggressively fought progressive legislation to audit the Federal Reserve" -- well, the White House did disagree with one amendment to the financial reform bill. You tell me if this -- again, it's Sirota's link -- sounds "aggressive":

The White House, Federal Reserve and Wall Street lobbyists are kicking up their opposition to an amendment to audit the Fed as a Senate vote approaches, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the lead sponsor of the measure, said on Monday. ...

"I think momentum is with us. But I've gotta tell you, that on this amendment, you're taking on all of Wall Street, you're taking on the Fed, obviously, and unfortunately you seem to be taking on the White House, as well. And that's a tough group to beat," said Sanders.

He's been trading calls, he said, with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

Ooh, nasty!

4. "There is the White House's over-the-top interventions in local Democratic primaries on behalf of corporate conservative candidates in their campaigns against progressive standard-bearers." -- Sirota's evidence here is that the White House endorsed incumbents in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Colorado. Endorsing Incumbents is a completely pro-forma exercise. George W. Bush endorsed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in 2004.

Have these endorsements been "over the top"? Actually, they've been fairly perfunctory. While Obama did feature in ads for Specter and Blanche Lincoln, he never visited Pennsylvania or Arkansas before the primaries. Specter supporters publicly complained about the president's lack of support while, in Arkansas, many observers credited another president--Bill Clinton--for Lincoln's victory. As for Colorado, Obama's only traveled to Colorado once, and Romanoff has pulled even with Bennet in both the primary and general elections. This is the opposite of "over the top."

So the sum total of the slaps to the face of progressives consists of lobbying to support a bill in the House, a mild statement for OfA disagreeing with the left, another act of lobbying in the Senate, and a few low-key endorsements. Remember, Sirota is arguing here that these steps are more vicious than anything Obama has done against Republicans.

The massive enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans has numerous causes, but surely one of them is the exquisite sensitivity to insult displayed by progressive activists.

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