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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 04:05 PM ET, 08/17/2011

Does Obama camp see upside in pissing off the left?

The story exploding on the left right now is that the Obama campaign’s state director in New Mexico sent out an email containing a blog post mocking Paul Krugman and the “firebagger liberal blogosphere”for criticizing the debt ceiling deal negotiated by the White House. Liberal bloggers are asking whether this is the latest sign that the Obama team sees percentage in dumping on the left — or “hippie punching,” as the blogospheric parlance has it.

The Obama official, Ray Sandoval, circulated the email just after the debt ceiling deal passed Congress. Sandoval’s email included a blog post that hammered lefty critics for deriding the deal as a surrender, deriding Krugman as a “political rookie” and decrying critics for “pure, fanatic, indomitable hysteria.”

The term “firebagger” appears to be a reference to Firedoglake, whose bloggers frequently hammer the White House for giving too much ground to Republicans.

The Obama campaign is now going on the record distancing itself from the email. A campaign spokesman, Katie Hogan, emails: “The views expressed in this email do not represent the views of the campaign.”

Here’s my take on this. Some folks on the left are pointing to the campaign’s failure to adequately shoot down this story as a sign that the campaign perhaps sees political gain in riling up the left, as part of some kind of triangulation strategy to win independents. I just don’t believe this is the case. It seems far more likely that they see this kind of story as nothing but a headache, and want it to go away. My bet is they worry — rightly or wrongly — that publicly reassuring liberal critics won’t necessarily gain any good will from them, only risks giving the story more oxygen, and gets them involved in a fruitless public dispute about whether they’re triangulating and “hippie punching.”

That said, this story does provide a window into what I think is a real problem — the nature of the Obama team’s frustration with liberal critics. The problem is that some on the Obama team don’t reckon with what it is lefty critics are actually saying. Obama advisers get angry when they think liberal critics are refusing to accept the limits placed on him by current political realities, and when lefties presume at the outset that Obama will inevitably sell out. That’s reflected in Sandoval’s angry email and in other periodic explosions of anger at the “professional left.”

But the lefty critique goes considerably further than this. It’s an argument with Obama’s team about tactics and strategy, about what might be attainable if he handled these negotiations differently. The case from these critics is if Obama approached negotiations with a harder line, it would be better politics because it would juice up the base and show indys he’s a fighter. They also advocate for this course because the current dynamic is hopelessly broken — and they think a more aggressive approach has at least a chance of broadening the field of what’s substantively possible. (There’s a segment on the left that also thinks Obama wants what’s in the deals he keeps securing, but the points above are broadly what many lefties agree on.)

Whether you agree with this critique or not — people make persuasive cases in both directions — Sandoval’s email shows a broader failure to reckon with what it is that has lefty critics so ticked off. That’s the real problem here — and it’s one of the key causes of the tension between the left and the White House.

UPDATE: I should add that there are plenty of signs lately that the White House is gearing up to show the kind of fight the left is hoping to see.

UPDATE II: Edited slightly for accuracy.

By  |  04:05 PM ET, 08/17/2011

 
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