By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2010; A02
"I am going to apologize in advance," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at the start of his briefing Wednesday afternoon.
News alert! Was he going to do a mea culpa for his amateurish decision to vent his frustration at the "professional left" -- a.k.a. President Obama's most loyal supporters?
Gibbs had no such plan. His apology was for his hoarse voice. "It is not my Barry White imitation, but it is still on the scratchy side," he explained.
Actually, his voice sounded fine. And the voice, anyway, isn't the problem. It's the words. Gibbs has, in the space of just a few weeks, twice committed the unforgivable sin for a White House press secretary: He has carelessly spoken the truth.
First, he said it was possible that Democrats would lose control of the House in November. Then, in an interview with the Hill newspaper, he criticized the "professional left" for its refusal to give Obama credit for all he has done.
"I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug-tested," Gibbs told the paper. "I mean, it's crazy." He went on to say these lefty pros "will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality."
The professional left's reaction was, not surprisingly, swift.
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, chairman and CEO of Professional Left, said that Obama had given in to the "professional right" and that "the White House has seemed more like the amateur left."
MSNBC's Ed Schultz, a senior vice president of Professional Left, said Gibbs "pretty much lost his cool" and questioned "the White House mentality towards the progressive movement."
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a regional director of Professional Left, said Gibbs should resign over his "untoward and inflammatory comments."
Gibbs and his colleagues have reason to be frustrated by the constant carping from the professional and semi-pro left. The gulf oil spill has been plugged, and three-quarters of the oil is gone. Combat in Iraq is ending in a matter of days. Health-care reform has been enacted. The auto industry is recovering, the bank bailout funds have been repaid, and a depression was averted. Yet the president, instead of getting credit, has received the sort of criticism from his unruly base that the right never bestowed on George W. Bush.
On the other hand, Obama has only himself to blame for setting expectations impossibly high. He persuaded liberals to support him over Hillary Clinton by claiming he would usher in a postpartisan era of world peace, domestic prosperity and green energy -- and that was just the first week. By that standard, he inevitably failed.
Gibbs, after apologizing for his voice, started out with a reminder that the administration is "on target to complete our drawdown by the end of August" in Iraq. "Already we have removed over 80,000 troops from Iraq since President Obama took office."
But his interrogators had other topics to discuss. "What do you think the consequences should be of the comments that you made about the quote-unquote professional left?"
"The consequences?" Gibbs replied. "Do you have anything in mind?"
"No supper" was one suggestion.
"One House member has suggested resignation" was another.
Gibbs reached for a JetBlue joke. "I don't plan on leaving," he said, "and there's no truth to the rumor that I've added an inflatable exit to my office."
Did he regret any of what he said to the Hill?
Gibbs allowed that he often thinks he "could have said things slightly differently" but said that after watching too much cable news, he got "frustrated by some of what's said, and I think that's what that answer was born out of."
But Gibbs, notably, was not rescinding his remarks.
"What do you say to progressives who, on reading your comments yesterday, say, 'Well, if that's their attitude, I'm staying home in November'?"
"I don't think they will," Gibbs said.
"Have you reached out to anyone in the Democratic Party to explain your comments?"
"Did you put your foot in your mouth?" CBS's Chip Reid asked. "Or did you say something that you meant?"
"I think I have both my feet firmly planted on the floor," Gibbs replied.
"So you don't believe you owe anybody an apology?" Reid pressed.
"I have not talked to anybody outside of the building, other than normal friends that I talk to each and every day."
"Have you talked to the president about it?" Reid persisted.
Another questioner invited him to respond to Olbermann's criticism Tuesday night.
"I was watching my BlackBerry for primary returns and watching the Braves game on the Internet," the press secretary replied.
Ouch. This is not going to play well at Professional Left global headquarters in New York.