“It’s like, ‘Well, gosh, we’ve got this historic healthcare 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.” — President Obama to Rolling Stone, September 2010
“I’m sorry I’m not sorry.” — Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers.”
And, Mr. President, they’re not going to apologize to you, either.
Despite the intense outreach Obama is now conducting, there will never be a close relationship between Obama and the left. He will have to continue to look upon George W. Bush’s loyal conservative following with envy.
And the tour he’s undertaking with liberal and minority groups now — the tough love, the chiding, the bullying — that’s as good as it’s going to get.
Because while the left feels as if it has legitimate grievances with Obama — he’s not a fighter, he caves, the public option, Elizabeth Warren — the president feels like he has legitimate grievances with the left.
Since the early days of the administration, there has been mistrust and anger between Obama and his Democratic allies. Remember how much they hated Rahm the capitulator?
The White House, bleeding uncontrollably during the healthcare debate, saw ex-Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.) and other Democrats adding to its headaches. Where was the unconditional love Bush got from the right when he went into Iraq?
That sentiment boiled over in an interview then-press secretary Robert Gibbs gave to The Hill in which he birthed the term “professional left.” But Obama, who targeted liberal bellyaching in his 2010 stump speech, wasn’t far behind.
The combative tone he took with the Congressional Black Caucus on Saturday night, when he complained of grumbling, is not new.
The president tried a similar tack in the run-up to the midterms, chiding disaffected supporters, deflated by the healthcare debate and stewing over the abandonment of the public option, to get over it and vote.
They did not.
They probably will this time, but that will have more to do with the Republican alternative than with Obama.
Liberal voters feel righteous in their hurt feelings. It’s almost a distinguishing characteristic for Democrats; a purity requirement that Republicans are now struggling with. Liberals seem to want an apology.
But Obama is far from apologetic. It is not his style, he is the president of the United States and he thinks he is the aggrieved party.
The president sees his administration as transformative. To Obama, fighting over the public option is dumb, self-defeating politics that weakened public opinion over a massive Democratic achievement.
Obama and his aides think they are doing the right thing for the country and for Democrats. It drives them nuts that liberals can’t see that.
Despite those feelings, Obama knows he has to make amends. He’s just not very good at doing it. At least not the way the left wants him to.
How do we know? Listen to him. Where’s the outreach? Watch the president as he reaches out to liberal and minority groups, then tells them to suck it up.
Obama invited BET into the Oval Office then dressed down the interviewer for suggesting that Obama, for lack of a better or less funny phrase, doesn’t care about black people.
“The other thing I want to make sure you don’t just kind of slip in there is this notion that African-American leaders of late have been critical,” Obama said. “There have been a handful of African-Americans who have been critical. They were critical when I was running for president. There’s always going to be somebody who is critical of the president of the United States.
“What has always made this country great is the belief that everybody has got a chance. Regardless of race, regardless of creed.”
Got that, black America?
Obama wants to be seen as the president of the whole United States. He is not, at least publicly, going to give any one group special attention.
So the left will continue to get its feelings hurt, Obama will continue to wonder why it wants him to lose, and neither side will be truly happy with the other.
But in the end, they both need each other.
Obama will continue to prod and push and generally piss off his base as he tells them to give, get over it and vote.
And while that might leave a lot of hurt feelings in the short term, it’s nothing that the Republican nominee can’t solve just by virtue of being nominated.
“It’s a family discussion,” Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said. “Good to clear the air now and get any frustration out so Democrats can get to work.”
This might be a family dispute. And nothing solves a family feud faster than a would-be home intruder.
Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill.