Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
Some leading Democrats seem to have a love-hate relationship with the left. Sure, progressives seem to have more influence than ever in the party this year, at least rhetorically. But it doesn't look like the friction will be going away any time soon.
President Obama has been escalating his war of words with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her allies, reigniting a burning resentment he last let slip in 2010. Hillary Clinton has adopted more progressive rhetoric, but her unwillingness to fight for specific policies has left activists frustrated.
Clearly, the left matters. Why, then, is it so difficult for progressives to get a seat at the table?
The Obama White House and the Left
While Obama seems to have targeted Warren for especially intense criticism, some of his barbs were aimed at broader targets. "Every single one of the critics ... (who) send out e-mails to their fundraising base that they're working to stop a secret deal, could walk over and see the text of the agreement," Obama said. "... I gotta say, it's dishonest."
Those remarks were aimed, not just at Warren, but Obama's other critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Congress. That includes Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), as well as Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
There is no need to relitigate the TPP's secrecy or the honesty of TPP critics. It's a matter of tone as well as substance. The president hasn't sounded this piqued since 2010, when he dismissed progressives who criticized his compromises (some would say caves) with Republicans as seeking to "have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people."
That was not long after then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sneered at "the professional left" and mischaracterized progressive positions so that he could say things like "these people ought to be drug tested." And it was the same year that Rahm Emanuel, who seemed to function as the administration's id, told a roomful of liberal activists that they were "f--ing retarded."
After the Detente
The administration's rancor toward the activist left seemed to disappear, or at least go underground, after the dustups of 2010 and 2011. The president tacked rhetorically to the left in response to the Occupy movement and in the run-up to the 2012 election. That boosted his poll numbers and is arguably responsible for his reelection.
In fact, five years after Obama excoriated progressives for rejecting his overtures to the GOP, outgoing White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer essentially acknowledged that Republicans never intended to work with the president and the left had been right all along. "There's never been a time when we've taken progressive action and regretted it," said Pfeiffer.
But that realization does not seem to have engendered new appreciation. The president seems unusually determined, not merely to win the TPP battle, but to knock his left-leaning adversaries out of the game altogether.
As for Hillary Clinton, her 2008 campaign was marked by pointed criticisms of what she and her advisers described as "naivete" -- often a stalking horse for principled leftism -- on the part of Obama and his supporters, as well as a deeply contemptuous series of attacks on "idealism" from aides and family friends. (I got sucker-punched in the ensuing brawl myself.)
Clinton's campaign is taking a decidedly different tone this time around, which is both judicious and welcome. Secretary Clinton seems to have recognized that idealism and leftist ideals are part of the essential DNA of her party -- and of American politics.