Progressives should, of course, thank White House press secretary Robert Gibbs for the small favor of distinguishing the Obama administration from the left.
In what he admitted was an "inartful" diatribe, the press secretary unleashed on lefties who have objected to Obama’s many compromises on economic and social issues and, above all, with regard to the expansion of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.
The "professional left," claimed Gibbs, is just a complaint club that will only "be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality." (If we are deferring to reality, it is probably worth noting that very few people on the left propose Pentagon "elimination," although many of them agree with Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul on the need to address the abuses and excesses in defense budgets.)
Gibbs hit with the left with what he apparently thought was his best shot: "They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."
Gibbs seemed to be dismissing Kucinich, the anti-war congressman, veteran economic populist and two-time contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, as an example of the extremity within the Democratic camp.
What Gibbs forgot, of course, was that Kucinich played a pivotal role in advancing Obama’s candidacy for the presidency. On the day of the 2008 Democratic caucuses in Iowa, Kucinich told his supporters that if they did not have a critical mass of backers at individual caucuses, they should throw in with Obama as the most viable progressive. That was a critical decision, since Obama only narrowly beat former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who was making a big play for liberal backing.
I saw the impact in downtown Dubuque, at the public library, where a group of Kucinich backers, recognizing that they were outnumbered, aligned with the Obama group and gave them the numbers they needed to dramatically overwhelm supporters of Edwards and Hillary Clinton. This happened at caucuses across Iowa. It is true that the Kucinich camp amounted to only two, three or perhaps four percent of the Democratic caucusgoers; but they played a critical role — and that role benefited Obama.
Had Kucinich urged his backers to go with Edwards, it might well have changed the results to give the North Carolinian the advantage in the key caucuses — perhaps even a narrow win of caucus night. That would have made it much harder — perhaps impossible — for Obama to position himself as the inevitable nominee.
This bit of history may be lost on Gibbs, as it may be on many in the administration. But they certainly ought to remember that Kucinich cast a critical vote this year for the health-care reform bill. The president needed that vote enough to call Kucinich and plead for it. And when Kucinich and I appeared on Ed Schultz’s MSNBC show to discuss the congressman’s choice, it was clear that he , and that he made a difficult choice because he wanted the Obama administration to maintain a measure of authority for future fights with the right.