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White House on Defense After Gibbs Lashes Out at "Professional Left"

Robert Gibbs
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) AP

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs delivered harsh remarks about his party's liberal base in an interview to the Hill newspaper recently, dismissing the "professional left" as unrepresentative of liberals "in America." Gibbs and the White House, however, have sought to downplay his remarks while at the same time maintaining that liberal dissatisfaction with President Obama is misguided.

Gibbs told the Hill that the "professional left" will only be satisfied "when we have Canadian healthcare and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality."

A number of liberal commentators have criticized the Obama administration on a range of issues -- such as giving up on the health care public option, a lack of action on repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy," the continuing war in Afghanistan, and for taking an expansive view of executive powers some have compared to former President Bush's.

"I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said in the interview. "I mean, it's crazy."

Gibbs also reportedly said the professional left does not represent liberals "in America" who organized, raised money and voted for President Obama.

Gibbs later said he may have expressed himself "inartfully," reports the Atlantic's Marc Aminber, who is also CBS News' chief political consultant.

At a White House press briefing today, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton acknowledged that "every single person in [the White House], including the person who lives here, can be frustrated at times" with the left. He added, however, that any frustration "is extraordinarily miminal compared to the focus pepole have on the work they're doing."

The president, Burton said is "not backing away" from the high standards by which the liberal base is judging him.

Burton, however, reiterated Gibbs' point that there is a "professional left" who may not represent most liberals.

"You have to separate out what folks say on cable TV from what progressives around the country think about how things are going," he said. "I think people are pretty pleased we were able to get health reform done, end the combat mission in Iraq."

Ambinder writes that "'professional liberals' often serve as guides, or curators, for the frustrations for unprofessional liberals -- regular liberals."

He continues, "These voters are frustrated because, for all of the President's legislative successes, there haven't been moments of clear triumph or moments of emotional catharsis -- or, when there have been such moments, like when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before Congress in favor of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, they evaporate quickly."

Ambinder notes that the wisdom of attacking the "professional left" in an election year in which Democratic voters are already less enthusiastic than Republican voters is questionable.

Politico's Ben Smith writes that "Gibbs' dig is a reminder that at the heart of this White House is a belief that Obama is president despite the Democratic Party, not because of it."

The success of Mr. Obama's presidential campaign was founded on grassroots support mobilized via an "alternative infrastructure," Smith writes, rather than traditional Democratic constituencies like unions, or even the liberal blogosphere.

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