'Same Strategy, Better Tactics': Robert Gibbs' Real 'Meet the Press' News

To hear some of the
Beltway media
tell it
, on Sunday White House press secretary Robert Gibbs predicted
that the Democrats could lose their congressional majority in the November
midterms. The L.A.

To hear some of the
Beltway media
tell it
, on Sunday White House press secretary Robert Gibbs predicted
that the Democrats could lose their congressional majority in the November
midterms. The L.A. Times captured some of the sense of
crisis (7/14/10),
noting that

party leaders also tried to improve the
gloomy prognosis. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, reversing course
from comments he made over the weekend, said Tuesday he now believed Democrats
would retain control of the House, a sentiment shared by the House majority
leader, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

It's odd, then, to look at what actually Gibbs said
on NBC's Meet the Press--which does not seem
at all controversial:

DAVID GREGORY: Two final points. First of all, I want to get a prediction from
you on, back on the political debate. Is the House in jeopardy, the
majority for the Democrats in the House, in jeopardy?

ROBERT GIBBS: I think there's no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be
up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice
to make in the fall. But I think there's no doubt there are enough seats
in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There's no doubt
about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats. And again,
I think we've got to take the issues to them. You know, are--do you want
to put into the speakership of the House, a guy who thinks that the financial
calamity is, is tantamount to an ant? The guy who's the ranking member of
the Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton, started his congressional
testimony of the CEO of BP by apologizing, not to the people in the Gulf, but
to the CEO. I think that's a perfect window, not into what people are
thinking, but the way they would govern. Joe Barton, John Boehner, those
are the type of things you'll hear a lot, I think, from both the president and
local candidates about what you'd get if the Republicans were to gain control.

Somehow this message--that mathematically speaking the Republicans
could win in November if Democrats do not run strong campaigns--is the one
Beltway pundits and reporters misrepresented and seized on.

A more revealing exchange in the same Meet the
interview came when host David Gregory asked a question that was
essentially posed from the left, wondering if Obama's campaign
rhetoric about breaking with Bush-era practices had been all talk:

The promise to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, yet
it's still open. The Afghanistan war is not scaled down, it's been escalated.
This administration has upheld the state secrets exemption in its pursuit of
terrorists legally. It appears the worst-kept secret in Washington is that
there appears to be abandoned plans to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in front of a
civilian trial. Same strategy for North Korea and Iran, basically.

Gibbs' response was to argue that the Obama White House
has outflanked the Bush administration to the right on some of these issues--a
much more revealing window into White House thinking than Gibbs' completely
uncontroversial take on the midterms.

GIBBS: I hate to interrupt, but let's understand this. We have the toughest
sanctions on North Korea that we've ever had as a result of unanimous U.N.
Security Council resolution.

GREGORY: Same strategy. Same strategy.

GIBBS: Same strategy...

Pursued by the Bush administration.

GIBBS: More important, better tactics. We've got the strongest sanctions
regime on Iran that has ever been in place. And, David, go back...

Same strategy as the Bush administration.

But, but understand--let's go back to the Bush


GIBBS: You brought this up. I know the next panel's going to say I blamed
this all on the Bush administration...

GREGORY: No, no, no. But can I just finish?

But--let me...

The predicate here, which is, is it harder to do
a reversal from Bush foreign policy than you originally thought?

GIBBS: No, because I think you've greatly oversimplified it. It--if you ask
Ed Gillespie, ask any of the folks that you had right now, if in September of
2008 or October of 2008 or November of 2008 whether China and Russia were going
to come on board for strengthening sanctions against Iran. The answer to that
would be a flat no. You wouldn't have gotten to the Security Council because
you would have had at least two countries raise their hand to veto those. This
president has put together a coalition that includes Russia and China, that's
actually strengthened our sanctions regime on South Korea [sic]. We have better
relationships with virtually every country in the world as a result of the
president's foreign policy outreach. We're reducing nuclear weapons in this
world that we know can cause the type of calamity, whether they accidentally
launch or whether they fell into the hands of a terrorist. There's no doubt,
David, that we have taken foreign policy in a different direction. We have
improved relationships with countries, but not just as a means to an ends.
That's actually making our country safer and more secure as a result. I think
you created, oversimplified, sort of, what the president is trying to do,
because the things that he's instituted couldn't have been done in the last

"Same strategy...better tactics." If that's the new
White House motto, that's a lot more newsworthy than saying that Democrats are
going to have to work hard to win the midterms.

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