Alright, this is something that’s been simmering in my head for a while now, and I think it’s just hitting a boil.
Yesterday, Bill Clinton made political headlines for “going off-message” in comments he made about temporarily extending the Bush tax cuts. When asked about his thoughts on the subject during an interview with CNBC, Clinton said:
“They will probably have to put everything off until early next year. That’s probably the best thing to do right now…The real issue is not whether they should be extended for another few months. The real issue is whether the price the Republican House will put on that extension is the permanent extension of the tax cuts, which I think is an error.”
Based on this, the media are having a field day, claiming that this indicates a schism between Clinton and the man whom he supposedly represents, President Obama. The chatter has been amplified by previous comments Clinton had made, regarding Mitt Romney’s experience at Bain Capital. The situation has inspired the Romney campaign to start up a fake Bill Clinton Twitter account, which is being used to send out tweets that show “Bill Clinton’s” support for Mitt Romney. Commentators on both the right and the left are questioning whether Clinton is helping or harming the president’s campaign, and what steps Obama’s handlers need to take to rein Clinton in.
This discussion of whether Clinton is being a “good surrogate” and how to “rein him in” is beginning to bother me. A lot.
I am of the opinion that Bill Clinton is free to say whatever he wants to say. He has been an enthusiastic, charismatic, successful figure in his service to the Obama campaign so far. His presence has energized audiences, garnered attention for Obama’s positions and raised some serious cash. If he is not in 100% agreement with the president, that should be just fine with everybody. Nothing he has said has been particularly egregious, anyway, and to scrutinize him so intensely for breaking away from the campaign script is a severe overreaction. The man is unconditionally backing the re-election of our president, and he has made that abundantly clear, but he is still being pilloried for failing to toe the Obama line to some people’s satisfaction.
To be honest, I had a similar reaction when the Cory Booker controversy flared up a couple of weeks ago. When Booker expressed his unhappiness with what he characterized as “nauseating” campaign strategy from the Obama camp, referring to ads which focused on Romney’s Bain Capital career, people on the left reacted as if he’d said he eats puppies for breakfast. After hearing the backlash, Booker began damage control mode, using Twitter and YouTube to “clarify” his comments. What he said actually made sense, too, for anyone who was willing to listen to him by that point:
I will fight hard for Obama to win. But just as his 08 campaign did, I believe we must elevate & not denigrate. This is the Obama I know—
Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 20, 2012
This is the essence of what many progressives, myself included, are beginning to feel. Maybe instead of attacking Romney, more effort should be spent highlighting the strategies and policies that have been successful for the president so far, and proposing new ideas that will guide us into the next phase of our country’s recovery. A focus on what’s positive about yourself is always going to resonate more than focusing on what’s negative about your opponent. And Romney’s already got a reputation for lying, flip-flopping and being out of touch through his own actions on the campaign trail so far. As we head into the fall, he’ll do a good enough job of showcasing his negative points all by himself.
That sort of opinion shouldn’t bother anyone, but I’ve seen comments and articles all over the web from Obama supporters who don’t like to see anyone step away from the campaign narrative. Some complaints I’ve seen originate from the people associated with the campaign itself. And I don’t like seeing that sort of thing at all. Democrats should not fall into the same self-destructive patterns as the Republicans are doing. We don’t need any circular firing squads happening among our ranks. What we do need is an understanding of political reality.
The reality is this: not every Obama supporter is in complete agreement with every Obama policy or action. Nor should we be. Questioning authority is always essential, even if the authority figure you’re questioning is someone you respect and support. If I am not crazy about the way the president has handled certain issues, I should be able to say so and others should be able to listen and discuss it without calling me out as a threat to the president’s campaign message. At the end of the day, I will not only vote for him, but I will work for him during the campaign, and I will donate to his re-election fund, and I will do these things enthusiastically and proudly. But if I’m willing to do these things for him, the least he and his handlers can do is respect the things that people like me – and President Clinton, and Cory Booker – have to say, even if they aren’t straight off the pages of his campaign playbook. Democrats don’t march in lockstep. I mean, look at Fox News. Look at the Republican obstructionists in Congress. That’s lockstep loyalty, and it’s ugly, and I know we don’t want to emulate that.
When there are grumbles among progressives that something seems off, the reaction from the White House has been very vocal frustration with the “professional left”. It’s an attitude of, “Hey, maybe you’re not crazy about the extension of these tax cuts, or maybe you think we should have pushed a little harder on the single-payer issue in the health care bill. But at least we did SOMETHING, right? You should be happy we even did that much!”
I am not a member of the professional left. Nobody has ever paid me a dime to think what I think. But I am investing my own money, my own time, my own effort, into making sure President Obama gets the second term that I think he deserves. I, like every other person who supports him, have a right to ask for the president’s best efforts on our behalf, since we are giving him our best efforts on his behalf. I know he wants to make things better for this country and for people like you and me, but I want him to recognize that there are many differing views among Democrats, and that he must be open to hearing all of them. And when his surrogates say things he doesn’t like, he and his campaign team need to deal with it. Don’t start doing that Jedi mind trick stuff, trying to spin things so we won’t think that we heard exactly what we heard. “Well, I know Joe Biden said he was perfectly comfortable with gay marriage, but what he REALLY meant was…” Or, “When Bill Clinton said he thought Romney’s a qualified candidate, what he REALLY meant was…” That’s straight out of the Fox News School of Journalism and we are better than that.
The very essence of the Democratic party is that there is plenty of room for varying ideas and opinions. Voicing disagreement or questioning the status quo is a good thing, not a bad thing, and it’s one of the hallmarks of progressive thought. We are trying to move this country and its people forward. We can only do that with open minds and tolerance, folks, so let’s not start eating our own.