Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Scent of Rhambo---Obama and the "professional left"

Mike Lux:
Here's the thing that drives me most crazy, though: the only thing making the Obama White House take the huge gamble of not reaching out to the professional left is their own arrogance. Engaging the "professional left" would be easy to do if they cared about it at all, and had a strategy to do it. In the Clinton White House, that presidency of NAFTA, failed health care, the 1994 election fiasco, and "triangulation", the progressive community- the professional left as well as progressive voters- progressives never deserted Clinton. Through his two elections, special prosecutors, the Lewinsky mess and impeachment, the Democratic base stayed loyal to and enthusiastic about Bill Clinton (even when he didn't always deserve it). Why? Because Bill Clinton cared about having a good relationship with progressives, and because we had a strategy for working effectively with them. President Clinton frequently asked me about who was happy with us and who was disgruntled in the progressive world, and we made sure to bring in everyone in the latter category for meetings and social events at the White House. At the height of the NAFTA fight, we organized a dinner for labor leaders where the President hung out with them for a long, social evening, telling them in his remarks "I know we are in a fight right now, but I want you to know that my White House will always be your house too, that we always will be friends." We made sure progressives always had chances to have serious input into policy development. Whenever we had bad news to deliver to progressive groups on any issue big or small, we reached out to them before the announcement, talked about how to make the damage hurt less, and talked about what we could do to help them on other issues. And whenever there was good news, we made sure the folks who cared about it were part of the celebration.

Here's the other thing: other Democratic politicians in 2010 get the need to work effectively with progressives. I have had my share of disagreements with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, but they and their staff have never failed to work constructively and conscientiously with me and other progressives I know. This is politics 101 as far as I am concerned, but to my knowledge, this White House isn't engaging in much of it. I am on the board of many different progressives groups, and know a wide assortment of folks in the blogosphere, in organizations, in the progressive donor world, on Capitol Hill, and I rarely hear about any kind of high-level outreach of this sort going on. One other important point on all this: what worries me the most is that I am as insider-y as a person can get. I have known Rahm for 30 years, Axelrod and Plouffe for over 20. I have been a client of Jim Margolis, Anita Dunn, and Axelrod's firms. I was a co-founder of Strategy Group, the Chicago based firm that was one of the closest inner circle firms in the Obama Presidential campaign. I have worked in the White House, and I even worked on the Obama transition. I am one of the professional left (not at all the only one, by the way) who, in spite of my disappointments with some of the compromises made, ended up supporting, enthusiastically working for, and praising Obama on all those initiatives mentioned above. Now I know that some folks in the White House are mad at me and have shut me out because I have been critical at times of this White House, but I still have to think: if the relationship with the "professional left" is as shaky as it is, and someone like me is not being reached out to much or asked to help, what about all those bloggers and progressive media people and organizations who don't have much in the way of inside connections? It worries the hell out of me, and it ought to be worrying the White House. MORE...

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