Cowards vs. Hypocrites: Why Democratic Politicians Despise the “Professional Left”

robert gibbsObama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs caused the biggest blogosphere firestorm of 2010 by publicly condemning the “professional left” during an August 10 interview. Many observed that while Republican politicians fear their base, Democrats “hate” theirs, a statement certainly borne out both by Gibbs’ comments and those previously made by Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. I wrote a January 20, 2010 piece titled Blaming the Left on this dynamic, which gets worse as Obama’s list of legislative accomplishments grows along with progressive disenchantment over the lack of transformational change. Republican and Democratic politicians treat their bases differently because the former is accused of lacking political courage while the latter is charged with hypocrisy; progressive criticism is more deeply felt because it challenges politicians’ personal identities.

When Republican politicians are criticized from their core base, they are typically being accused of lacking the political courage to take on unpopular issues.

In contrast, progressives believe that their agenda is politically popular, but that Democratic politicians are too beholden to corporate interests to aggressively advance it.

It’s a difference between cowardice and hypocrisy.

Republicans can deflect charges of cowardice by saying that the base does not understand political reality. But progressives believe the public supports more progressive stands (e.g. polls showed strong support for the public option that Obama abandoned), leaving Democrats to fend off charges that they talk about serving the public good but instead serve corporate interests inimical to the public welfare.

Democrats who campaign for greater social and economic fairness, and who often deliver on such goals, deeply resent such accusations.

And I have known enough successful politicians to know that this resentment is greatest when the accusations are correct – politicians get the angriest and most self-righteous when the base catches them putting campaign contributions or other political interests ahead of the values and policies they publicly espouse.

It may have been coincidental that Gibbs bashed the left on the date the Obama Administration won House approval for $600 million in new funds for “securing” the border against undocumented immigrants. The Center for Community Change and other sectors of the “professional left” opposed this action, and has been increasingly irate over Obama’s lack of progress on immigration reform.

Democrats who run and are elected as progressives do not want to hear that funding an endless war in Afghanistan, and maintaining massive defense spending, undermines their claims to want to fund housing, education, transportation or other domestic needs. It infuriates them that their commitment to the cause is even questioned, notwithstanding their actual record.

And this is not simply a “DC Democrat” problem. Many local progressive politicians also come to “hate” their activist base.

Many local politicians are looking for campaign contributions for higher office, and expect activists to understand that they have to promote large development projects or other corporate agendas in order to get this financial support. Since these politicians equate the advancement of their political careers with the advancement of the progressive cause, they feel deeply offended if their base criticizes their support for such profit-driven projects.

It’s a very sad dynamic for activists experiencing it firsthand. A person you walked precincts and made phone calls for suddenly treats you as the enemy simply because you seek to hold them accountable for their campaign promises.

randy shaw
As I argue in The Activist’s Handbook, successful activists have concluded that even most progressive politicians only respond to pressure, and that a “fear and loathing” relationship is often required. In other words, being feared and hated by the Obama Administration is likely to achieve more for progressives than being invited to the White House or otherwise treated as a “friend.”

Many seasoned activists thought it would be different under President Obama. Gibbs’ comments confirm they were wrong.

Randy Shaw

Republished with permission from Beyond Chron

Published by the LA Progressive on August 13, 2010
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About Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Director of San Francisco's Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Editor-in-Chief of the online daily newspaper "Beyond Chron." He is the author of three books, "Beyond the Fields", "The Activist's Handbook", and "Reclaiming America".

Comments

  1. I don’t think it is fair to compare Republicans and Dems and pressure from their bases. When Republicans get into office they actually follow through on all their ugly campaign promises. Their base doesn’t have to force them to crucify homosexuals, or continue an endless war, or take control of women’s wombs. Republicans just make it actually happen.

    Obama is a conservative corporate tool because he wants to be, not because liberals haven’t pressure him hard enough to do what he said he would do.

  2. Well I am not sure what a “professional left(ist)” is but since I am retired I suppose that I am not a professional anything now. However, that said I am an active and proud progressive and I take offense at the mutterings of Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Emmanuel who are obviously asses and are symptomatic of what is wrong with the Obama administration that has compromised away (p____d away if you will) its moral position and the strength garnered in a convincing electoral victory in the fall of 2008. For the record: though I am on social security I still donated several hundred dollars to the Obama campaign and helped other democrats with donations in 2008; but that was then and now is now and I am not giving much if anything to any of the Obama supporters or other leading California Democrats that I supported before. The cowardice and greed of the incumbents has worn me down. They worry not about the state of the American people and the nation but about their re-election campaign and how much corporate ass they can kiss to fill their coffers. The sell outs on the public option in the medical reform, the sell out on the economic reform, and on and on have brought me to the conclusion that those to whom I gave money only viewed me and other working class Americans as suckers they could fleece and then ignore. A campaign of Hope and Courage could have had the courage to tell the industrial-intelligence-military complex that the predatory wars are over, we are getting out of the fall flung base complex that does nothing for national security (but it does furnish jobs for generals and generals wannabees who just don’t get promotions without some little war to fight), a campaign of Hope and Courage could have told the banks to pay their own way out of the trench they had buried themselves in, a campaign of Hope and Courage could have implemented a far reaching medical reform including medicare for all or something like that by going to the public and attacking the insurance industry, and so on but instead the administration rolled over and compromised away their position time after time. And instead of furloughing out the old generals who got us or kept us in the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan they have been kept on are still helping devise policy. Our military has been compromised, with the addition of “private contractors,” into a shabby “door-shaker-rent-a-cop” force working for the corporations in a seize the oil plan. I am a pretty angry progressive and I don’t see any reason to hide my anger or front for the Obama effort and attempt to rationalize the cowardice that has been displayed by the likes of Gibbs and Emmanuel. And I definitely won’t shut up no matter how many times the White House flunkies try to shush me or other progressives. We are right and have been right since the Indo-China War right up to today.

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