White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ recent skewering of the left was the latest episode of the Obama administration’s strange tendency to abandon its base (Hispanics, blacks, the poor, gays and now progressives).
Gibbs pulled no punches. Of progressives who complain that Obama consistently caves on issues ranging from health care reform to Guantánamo Bay to gays in the military to war, Gibbs opined that the “professional left” will never regard anything the president does as good enough.
“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. Ironically, Gibbs painted progressives with the same brush used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality … They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”
Despite Gibbs’ protestations, anticipated post-Obama election benefits for the country’s marginalized populations have not materialized. In fact, we now face reinvigorated attacks on progressives, minorities, the poor and gays. Individually and collectively, these assaults are considered warranted or at least excusable. Take the case of Shirley Sherrod. By now, everyone knows the story of the obscure Department of Agriculture employee forced to resign (via BlackBerry) after she was accused of racism against whites by right-wing hit man Andrew Breitbart.
In the aftermath of the debacle, Obama supporters (and Obama himself) blamed Breitbart, the right, FOX News and the media. Blame can just as rightfully be placed on the Obama administration and the so-called black leadership that continues to pander to it (remember, the NAACP quickly issued a statement calling for Sherrod’s head). We know what to expect from the Breibarts and FOX News advocates of the world. But, is this the best we’re going to get from the “Administration of Change”?
Embarrassingly, there was no sense of history on the part of Obama or NAACP leader Ben Jealous. Anyone who knows anything about the American movement for equality and humanity immediately recognized the name Sherrod. Charles Sherrod was one of the early members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and waged titanic battles throughout the country in the 1960s. Turns out, Shirley Sherrod is his wife. And the Obama administration and NAACP tossed her aside without even giving her the benefit of a conversation to explain her side.
After saying nothing about Sherrod’s struggle until the damage was done, Obama once again (day late, dollar short) called for discussions of race to happen at “kitchen tables” and “water coolers.” Translation: “You all can talk about it if you like, but I’m not saying a word unless I’m forced to. Sorry, Negroes, but it’s open season.” The reality is Obama has provided little leadership on this issue. If anything, his horribly detached “I’m above it all” approach to race emboldens the mean-spirited xenophobes who long for the “purity” of antebellum America.
Meanwhile, congressional stalwart Maxine Waters is fighting to save her reputation. The iconic Charlie Rangel has morphed into the modern Adam Clayton Powell Jr. as he defies attackers on the Hill. Republicans repeatedly insulted the legendary Thurgood Marshall during Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings. Hardly a word from the White House.
When Gibbs was asked whether he thought progressives would come out and vote for Democrats in November, Gibbs responded that he thought they would because they know the alternative (the Republicans) is too distasteful. So, for progressives, Obama and the Democrats are repulsive, but we should view the GOP with even more trepidation. In my book, that’s the “politics of fear.” Sound familiar?
Obama and the Democrats won in 2008 largely because of progressives, minorities, young people and new voters who really thought he was committed to what he said — “change.” So, Mr. Gibbs, I wouldn’t be so sure they will rush to the polls again knowing what you represent. I’m not saying these voters will cast their lot with Republicans and Tea-Partiers — that would be crazy. Maybe they’ll just stay home.
The question many of us have now is, “So what if the Republicans win locally, statewide or nationally? What really changes?” Obama was many people’s last hope that change through American politics could happen. So far, many of them are disappointed.