By DeWayne Wickham
A day after Robert Gibbs opened a second front in the Obama administration’s political warring, Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine was triaging the wounds inflicted by the White House press secretary.
Asked how the Democratic National Committee can rally Democrats to the polls in November — after Gibbs blasted party liberals for griping about what the president hasn’t done and for not giving Obama enough credit for what he has accomplished — Kaine offered a surgical response.
“On balance, I liked more than I didn’t,” he said, trying to put a good spin on the front page story in The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper that covers the federal government. In the article, Gibbs called discontented liberals the “professional left” and said some of them “ought to be drug tested” for comparing Obama with George W. Bush.
Kaine, who runs the political arm of the Obama administration, faced a tough job before Gibbs’ rant. With polls divided over whether voters are leaning toward Republicans or Democrats in November’s midterm elections, the press secretary’s fragging of some members of his party’s left wing has made it worse. Self-described liberals voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
“The rallying of the troops (Democratic voters) is ultimately a function of the troops understanding what’s at stake,” Kaine said, deflecting attention away from his party’s infighting and focusing it instead on the war Democrats are waging with Republicans. “Our job is to explain to people” why the midterm elections are important. That message, he said, will make the choices “plain and stark” for voters.
An early supporter of Obama’s presidential bid, Kaine cut his teeth in the rough-and-tumble world of Virginia politics, where sniping among Democrats has been something of a blood sport in recent years. Somehow he was largely unscathed. He served two terms as mayor of Richmond, and a single term as lieutenant governor and governor before being tapped by Obama to take on the largely thankless job of national party chairman. His selection might prove fortuitous for Democrats, who desperately need a calming influence at their political helm this election season.
“The nub of what he was trying to express is, we Democrats tend to be impatient people. There isn’t a single constituency within the Democratic Party who says everything has been done” on the issues important to them, Kaine said. “I think Gibbs just expressed that natural frustration that while we’re impatient, let’s at least acknowledge the progress that’s been made.”
That’s the kind of soothing — though hardly exculpatory — explanation of Gibbs’ harsh words that gives Democrats reason to believe they can keep their coalition together long enough to fend off GOP efforts to win back control of both houses of Congress in November.
Kaine said the DNC will spend about $50 million to get out the party’s message that the nation was in a ditch when Obama took office and that the president’s policies are slowly lifting it out. Kaine points to the passage of the health care bill and financial reform legislation — talking points straight out of his party’s election campaign playbook — as proof of that movement.
That might be a good message in a one-front political war. But to make sure that message is heard, Kaine will have to drown out the sounds of the second front Gibbs opened less than three months before voters go to the polls.