In an interview published Tuesday in the Hill newspaper
, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs let rip his frustration at "liberal naysayers" who have criticized President Obama's policies as being insufficiently left wing. "I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said. "I mean, it's crazy."
The Obama administration has been faulted by the left for the ongoing wars in Iraq
, a lack of a public option
in the health care reform package, not yet having closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay
, a financial regulation reform
bill deemed not aggressive enough, stalled efforts on climate change legislation
and for being perceived as not supportive enough on gay rights issues, including same-sex marriage
, the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell
" policy and federal funding for HIV and AIDS programs
The White House, for its part, appeared to be baffled by claims it has not pursued an aggressive strategy. "There's 101 things we've done," said Gibbs in the Hill interview, citing Iraq and health care.
Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton echoed this message in a press conference later on Tuesday, but insisted that outside criticism was not taken too seriously inside the White House:
"When you look at some of this things this administration has been able to do from ending the combat mission in Iraq to comprehensive health care reform, to equal pay, to financial regulatory reform, to what we're doing today to save 160,000 teacher jobs -- is there ever some frustration from anyone who works in this building about the way it's being covered? Sure. But that doesn't distract us from the serious work we have to do."
The White House seemed to be of the view that what Gibbs termed the "professional left" -- pundits and left wing media -- was not representative of progressives who helped elect Obama. According to the Hill, Gibbs said that, "Progressives are the liberals outside of Washington 'in America,' and they are grateful for what Obama has accomplished." Burton reiterated this, saying, "I think you have to separate out what folks say on cable TV from what progressives around the country think about how things are going."
To the actual concerns from the left, Burton said, "The president has spent his first 20 months doing exactly what he said he was going to do on a wide range of issues." While he characterized concerns about health care and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as "legitimate," Burton attributed any rifts as largely "disagreements on pace, or disagreements on what goes in what order." Such differences are inherent to the Democratic Party, he suggested, saying, "There's a strength in the diversity of opinions that democrats have...That's something we're proud of."
For a White House that has found itself the target of intense right wing criticism for nearly everything it does
these days -- especially in the run-up to the midterm elections -- the arrows from the left have likely been annoying, if not particularly stinging. Burton, however, downplayed any outrage.
"I think it's possible to overstate this conversation that Gibbs had with a reporter. And to overstate the importance of this conversation." He continued, "In this case, yeah, every single person in this building -- including the one who lives here -- at times can be frustrated with the way things are covered. But it's pretty minor compared to the hard work that we're actually doing."