Liberal progressives’ dissatisfaction with White House forces Democratic divide

Jon Ward Contributor
Font Size:

Tension between liberal progressives and the White House ran high over the weekend when MSNBC personality Ed Schultz revealed Saturday that he had called White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs a “piece of shit,” prompting Gibbs to curse at him in return.

The incident brought two things to light. First, the most harmful rebuttals to President Obama’s health-care talking points are coming from liberal progressives. Second, the White House response to those criticisms is alienating the president’s natural base.

“I think there’s frustration that is growing,” said a senior Democratic party operative.

“I think that some of it is a feeling of what are all these compromises adding up to,” on health care, the Democrat said. “That is coupled with a feeling that [liberal progressives] are taken for granted.”

Gibbs’s response to Schultz – he reportedly cursed him out – particularly enraged some on the left.

“We’re supposed to go along for the ride and recognize their eminent wisdom, and when we don’t, we’re evil idiotic bastards who are clueless,” said one influential progressive activist. “Would you see Michael Steele or Karl Rove scream at Tea Party leaders, or scream at the conservative bloggers?”

Republicans “don’t have the same antipathy for their ideological base,” the activist said.

The mounting frustration comes at a bad time for the White House, which is trying to salvage a health-care bill after the Massachusetts Senate election results took away Democrats’ 60-seat super majority in the Senate and spooked many House Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was expected to discuss options with her caucus this Wednesday – the day of Obama’s State of the Union speech – and possibly raise the prospect of a reconciliation package that might include a government-run “public option.”

But even liberal Democratic lawmakers did not appear to be fully embracing such a plan.

Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, has been a proponent of a public option, which many conservatives see as opening the door to government-run health care. A spokesman, Michael Mershon, said McGovern remains in favor of the public option.

But McGovern, he said, “has also taken great pains to say that we can’t simply ignore what happened last week in Massachusetts.”

“People are genuinely concerned about the health care bill,” Merson said.

A senior House Democratic leadership aide said that despite the sniping from progressives, “at the end of the day, we all want to pass health insurance reform.”

Yet, as the White House has tried to go on offense after Massachusetts, some of their top talking points have been thrown back at them by liberal progressives.

The White House has said Americans like the health-care bill when they find out the details, and Republicans are mere shills for insurance and drug companies.

Jon Walker, a blogger at Firedoglake.com, has been tagging the administration for weeks. On Monday, he rebutted the idea that greater knowledge of the details makes many Americans more favorable toward health-care reform, at least regarding the Senate bill.

“I have heard a dangerous mantra being repeated by the Senate bill apologists in many different forms,” Walker wrote. “The goal of the consistently uttered mantra seems to be to trick those inside the Washington bubble that the Senate health-care bill is, in fact, secretly popular, but the American people are too dumb to realize it.”

Walker said that while some measures are popular, many people “become dramatically less supportive” of the bill passed by the Senate when they learn of a mandate to buy private insurance, a “secret deal” with drug companies, the delay of benefits until 2014, and other measures.

The mandate and the deal with drug makers are the two provisions in the Senate bill that led Schultz to lambaste Gibbs on consecutive nights last week.

Schultz said Jan. 20 that many on the left see the health-care bill “a sellout to big pharma” and “nothing but a gift to the insurance industry.”

“Ed, let’s not do what we’re really good at in the Democratic party,” Gibbs said. “Let’s not get a big room, get in a big circle and fight with each other. Let’s pass health-care reform.”

Schultz persisted.

“The left-wing base of this country that supported this president does not believe that this White House fought hard enough for a public option or for a mechanism that would give direct competition to the insurance industry,” he said.

The two men went back at it on Jan. 21, prompting a testy off-air confrontation afterward, which Schultz boasted about during remarks at a progressive dinner in Minneapolis.

Gibbs said Monday that he told Schultz he was misrepresenting the health-care plan to “get people to watch his show.”

Asked if he thought the confrontation with Gibbs and criticisms from other progressives was becoming a distraction, Gibbs answered curtly by e-mail: “No.”

Watch Schultz vs Gibbs part one:


And here is Schultz vs Gibbs part two: