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White House Changes Its Tune On The Value Of Keith Olbermann

While President Obama‘s response to a Rolling Stone reporter’s question about Fox News is generating a lot of heat in this news cycle, an arguably more remarkable media angle has gone underreported. The President’s views on Fox are really nothing new, but the White House’s positive name-checking of liberal fire-breather Keith Olbermann represents a significant shift from just a few months ago, when Mediaite asked Robert Gibbs if the administration was worried about losing his support. The question here isn’t “Why the shift?” but rather, “What took so long?”

When I asked Gibbs specifically about Olbermann and Jon Stewart in mid-June, Gibbs seemed to suggest that the influential pair mightr be out of touch with “real Americans”:


Since then, Gibbs has also agitated the President’s base with his comments about the “professional left,” and his observation that there were enough seats in play for the GOP to re-take the House in November. While they played out like gaffes, Gibbs’ provocations did, in some measure, address the Democrats’ biggest disadvantage in the mid-term elections: the energy of the base.

Now that the White House has their attention, the courtship has begun. The majority of that Rolling Stone interview is about making the case that the President, and the Democrats, have largely fulfilled what the base elected them to do, with a little tough love thrown in:

Some of it, also, has to do with — and I joke about it — that there’s a turn of mind among Democrats and progressives where a lot of times we see the glass as half-empty. It’s like, “Well, gosh, we’ve got this historic health care legislation that we’ve been trying to get for 100 years, but it didn’t have every bell and whistle that we wanted right now, so let’s focus on what we didn’t get instead of what we got.” That self-critical element of the progressive mind is probably a healthy thing, but it can also be debilitating.

When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them, “Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.” I came in and had to prevent a Great Depression, restore the financial system so that it functions, and manage two wars.

Then, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton volunteered kind words about Keith Olbermann to reporters during an Air Force One briefing, which the progressive figurehead lapped up on last night’s Countdown:


Briefing Transcript:

Q    Does he feel that too many Americans don’t appreciate or recognize these things that you guys have accomplished?

MR. BURTON:  No, I don’t think that that’s his point.  The President doesn’t travel the country thinking about whether or not people are appreciating what he’s doing.  He’s doing the hard work of being President because he feels like there are certain policies that need to be enacted, there are certain things that need to be reversed in order to get our economy — keep our country on the right track.

So what the President is doing is making sure that people know, whether you’re on the left or the right, that we’ve done a lot, we’ve got a lot more to do.  And if you’re on the left, if you’re somebody like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or one of the folks who helps to keep our government honest and pushes and prods to make sure that folks are true to progressive values, then he thinks that those folks provide an invaluable service.  But at the same time, we need to focus our energy and our efforts on the choice that Americans have this fall.

All of this would seem to be in service to energizing the Democratic base, and thus neutralizing the GOP’s Tea Party-fueled edge in enthusiasm during the midterms. In case anyone doubts this, the President made it pretty clear when he went back to the Rolling Stone reporter, after the interview had ended, to offer this valediction:

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we’ve got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what’s at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money’s coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.

If you’re serious, now’s exactly the time that people have to step up.

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