olbyoreillyWhite House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sparked a left-wing backlash Tuesday morning by blasting the "professional left."
The controversy only continued into prime time, with MSNBC host Keith Olbermann amplifying the day's liberal-blogosphere and Twitter reaction.
Gibbs never named names while criticizing those who don't think the administration's done enough for the left or who think the White House is pursuing some policies too similar to the Bush administration.
But that didn't stop Olbermann or any other outspoken liberals from assuming, perhaps correctly, that the Obama administration meant them.
White House officials have insisted that Gibbs' definition of "professional left" was limited to liberal bloggers, activists and cable TV types who have directed plenty of friendly fire toward Obama in recent months. Yet there's a real danger for the White House that Gibbs' comments and the subsequent intra-party fighting could further alienate Democratic voters they desperately need to turn out in this November's midterm elections.
Already, Democrats face a significant gap compared with Republicans when it comes to enthusiasm about the elections. A Gallup poll last week found that only 22 percent of Democrats were "very enthusiastic" about the midterms — the lowest percentage tracked so far this election cycle. By comparison, Republican enthusiasm is nearly double that proportion, a sign that GOP voters are far more likely to turn out to vote than Democrats. In other words, Dems can't afford to lose any more momentum.
It's not surprising, then, that the White House has tried to keep attention focused on the Beltway chattering class and its cousins in the blogosphere. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton filled in for Gibbs at Tuesday's White House briefing and took a question about how his boss defines the "professional left."
"I think that the way I took it, and having spoken with Robert a couple of times today," Burton said, "I think he was just talking about folks who mostly live in this town and talk on cable TV."
Burton didn't rattle off a list of names either. But at one point he joked that liberal radio host Bill Press is a member after Press asked a question on the topic. Regardless, Olbermann, who indeed "talks on cable TV," used his prime-time liberal pulpit to defend the professional-left formation.
"I'm on cable," Olbermann said. "I suppose I'm part of the problem from [Gibbs'] perspective."
You can watch Olbermann's five-minute "Special Comment" here:
"If, Mr. President, you fall into the trap of equating the professional left and professional right, or of the false equivalency of MSNBC and FOX News, you are going to spend the rest of your time in the White House curled up in a churlish ball in the corner wondering what happened to your encore," Olbermann said later.
"If indeed I am part of the professional left," he continued, "I am here to applaud good policy and good leadership and good statesmanship, and to boo bad policy and bad leadership and bad statesmanship."
Olbermann, near the end, said he still doesn't know if he's part of the "professional left" and actually "would rather not be." However, he said, "if there is a professional left, it's only because on a day like today, the White House has seemed more like the amateur left."
(Photo of Olbermann holding an O'Reilly mask: AP/ Reed Saxon)