ARE WE READING THE SAME ARTICLE?

Both Greg Sargent and David Sirota react to a short piece from Obama field operative Steve Hildebrand. Hildebrand's piece struck me as a fairly conventional dog-whistle from the Obama folks to the left, trying to reassure them that Obama still supports liberal policies despite centrist appointments. Hildebrand is still close to the Obama team, and I can't imagine he would write this without their knowledge and consent, so this defense of the president-elect has more juice than my arguments along similar lines. (UPDATE: Further context from Hildebrand)

But Sirota and Sargent seem furious about the piece, with Sirota characterizing it as "firing up the whaaaaaaaambulance to whine and cry and moan about 'the left'" and "explicitly attacking 'the left wing of the Democratic Party' in Fox News-style talking points." Sargent says that "the criticism of Obama from the left has actually been pretty mild, and the notion of a left "angry" about Obama's "centrism" and "pragmatism" is largely a media creation. ... Hildebrand seemed willing to feed that creation by perpetuating the false idea that the "left wing of our party" doesn't want Obama to be "pragmatic" and harbors a set of wild-eyed priorities that are somehow at odds with what Obama views as our major challenges." Sargent even thinks this was an intentional effort from the Obama camp to anger the left -- as if the president-elect thought what he really needed was some good, old-fashioned infighting to get his administration off the ground.

I don't think Hildebrand's piece is an attack on the left at all, or even complaining about them. Obviously, there are people on the left who are somewhat disquieted by Obama's picks, as Sargent and Sirota point out, and they have been quietly pressuring Obama to keep his promises -- as they should! -- but certainly there hasn't been the kind of squabbling that has been seen in the past. I've done my part to criticize these media-created infighting narratives. Hildebrand's piece comes off as fairly sober reassurance in response to fairly sober criticism.

Sirota takes the most issue with a paragraph where Hildebrand seems to draw a distinction between liberal priorities and other pressing issues, writing, "But first let's get our economy moving, bring our troops home safely, fix health care, end climate change and restore our place in the world." It's a somewhat unfortunate construction, but I read this as an attempt to move the center to leftwards. If those four goals -- including climate change and health care reform! -- are identified as centrist, then progressives are freer to advocate for the sensible proposals that are even further out of the supposed "mainstream" -- prison reform! the labor agenda! ending the DOMA and DADT! You get my point. Winning elections shouldn't be where progressives measure victory. A real win for the left is when their ideas become the mainstream and ridiculous conservative ideas become the fringe. Hildebrand seems to be writing to defened that conception, and not to attack liberals.

I'd also note that Hildebrand, from what I hear, is personally further left than either of these writers realizes.

--Tim Fernholz

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