After Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that those on the Left who claim that Obama is just like Bush need to be drug tested, the howls were fast and furious. Gibbs walked back his statements, but by attacking their cynicism, he exposed the Left’s unrealistic expectations, and their annoying habit of pushing the Right’s talking points.
In an interview with The Hill, Robert Gibbs said, “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it’s crazy.” He also claimed that the expectations of the Left were not based in reality. They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
By the end of the morning, Gibbs had walked back his statements and delivered a strong argument for why Obama is not like Bush, “Some are frustrated that the change we want hasn’t come fast enough for many Americans. That we all understand. But in 17 months, we have seen Wall Street reform, historic health care reform, fair pay for women, a recovery act that pulled us back from a depression and got our economy moving again, record investments in clean energy that are creating jobs, student loan reforms so families can afford college, a weapons system canceled that the Pentagon didn’t want, reset our relationship with the world and negotiated a nuclear weapons treaty that gets us closer to a world without fear of these weapons, just to name a few. And at the end of this month, 90,000 troops will have left Iraq and our combat mission will come to an end.”
Marc Ambinder summed up the argument from some on the Left that Obama is just like Bush, “The idea that Obama is like Bush rests on the following argument: he’s escalating the war in Afghanistan (fulfilling a campaign promise), has failed to close Gitmo (more the fault of Congress than the White House), has vigorously prosecuted novel and potentially extra-legal counter-terrorism campaigns overseas, and has fleshed out assertions of executive power by the previous administration.”
I would add to the list of liberal grievances the slowness of movement on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the lack of a public option as a part of healthcare reform, and the sudden crib death of the card check bill, which was quickly suffocated and never allowed to get off the ground. Now it is time for a little bit of reality. Barack Obama has passed more major legislation in almost 18 months than George W. Bush did in 8 years.
Bush could not get any major legislation passed outside of tax cuts, the post 9/11 war authorization and the Patriot Act, the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, and No Child Left Behind. For the majority of Bush’s two terms Republicans controlled Congress. While Bush was defeated by his own party on immigration reform, Obama has yet to be defeated on single major piece of legislation, yet the Left still compares him to Bush.
The Obama and Bush comparison only makes sense on an emotional level. Obama promised the Left fundamental changes in American politics. The problem is that change is a subjective term. When a candidate is trying to win an election, general and broad themes are better for appealing to voters than the narrow and specific. The goal is to get the most votes, while not turning anyone off.
The Obama campaign made sure that their themes were open ended, as any campaign should, but the combination emotionally draining Bush years, with the hopeful dynamics of Obama created a climate of lofty and unrealistic expectations, especially among the Left, and the most disturbing element of the Left’s criticism of Obama has not been the criticism itself, but the so called intellectual Left’s willingness to adopt Republican anti-Obama talking points.
Since Republicans have adopted the bizarre strategy of comparing every Obama mistake to their previous president, the Left has frequently been caught echoing these talking points. The Left got angry at Obama after the BP spill, and some echoed the “Obama’s Katrina” criticism. The Left has helped the Right in trying to label Afghanistan “Obama’s war.” Too often, those who are trying to tout their independence, do so, not with fair and factual criticism, but by mouthing Republican talking points.
Anyone who wants to compare Obama to Bush needs to ask what George W. Bush would have done with the same issues that we are currently facing? It is a pretty safe bet that there would still be big force in Iraq, the auto industry would be no more, there would be no escrow fund for the victims of BP, Healthcare reform would remain a distant fantasy. The economic answer would not have been a stimulus package, but more tax cuts, and 10 percent unemployment would be an improvement.
While I don’t think those who equate Obama to Bush are on drugs, I do believe that they are trapped in a fantasy land where the reality of political constraints does not apply. Obama can’t simply dramatically reverse course on issues of war and peace that have global consequences. Gibbs was correct to offer the critics on the Left a reality check, but ideological naivety is not equivalent to being high.