Does Obama want ‘left-wing groups’ to back off?

DOES OBAMA WANT ‘LEFT-WING GROUPS’ TO BACK OFF?…. This Politico report is bound to raise a few eyebrows, but as was the case the last time this came up, I think there may be more to this than meets the eye.

On the same day that MoveOn.org announced a new wave of ads to pressure centrist … Democrats on health care reform, President Obama told Senate Democrats he wished “left-wing groups” would back off.

A White House official who was in the lunch tells POLITICO: “The President discussed how the current tone and culture in Washington made it more difficult than it has been in the past to work in a bipartisan fashion. In particular, he singled out Republican Senators who are trying to work in a bipartisan fashion even in the context of a vocal minority in their party who doubt that the President was born in the US. In this context about the less productive tone of the debate in Washington, he said he didn’t like to see ‘left wing groups attack fellow Democrats.'”

On Tuesday morning, MoveOn.org unveiled a new set of radio ads airing in districts represented by Blue Dog Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Charles Melancon (D-La.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.).

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the president did, in fact, say this to Democratic senators, and I’m sure they appreciated it. Obama needs lawmakers to stand with him and his agenda, and it helps when he effectively tells them, “Those liberal groups really ought to leave you guys alone — especially you, Ben Nelson.”

But let’s not lose sight of the larger dynamic here. There are plenty of progressive organizations and institutions — MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Service Employees International Union, Progressive Change Campaign Committee — pressuring Democratic members on meaningful reform. If the White House wanted the groups to pull back, the White House would ask the groups to pull back.

Instead, we’re hearing that senators — who’d prefer not to receive the pressure — received supportive comments from a sympathetic president about those mean ol’ activist groups leaning on members to do the right thing. As Ezra Klein noted in July, that makes sense as a strategy: “It looks like Obama is semi-publicly defending the congressional Democrats whose votes he’ll eventually need. That, obviously, is what Obama needs to do. But that’s different from seriously putting the screws on, say, the unions attacking restive centrists.”

Right, and there’s very little evidence to suggest the White House is doing anything to pressure those applying the pressure, beyond saying nice things to members of Congress about how awful it must be to feel so much pressure.

Update: Presumably, OFA would follow the White House’s lead if Obama really wanted Dems to be left alone, and yet, OFA is challenging Democratic lawmakers, too.