Liberals press Obama for more action on key issues

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 24, 2010 

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — President Barack Obama Saturday tried to calm liberals frustrated by what they consider slow progress on their favorite causes, urging Democratic bloggers and activists to be patient and work with him.

"Change hasn't come fast enough for too many Americans; I know that," Obama said in a four-minute video message to the Netroots Nation convention. "It hasn't come fast enough for me, either. And I know it hasn't come fast enough for many of you who fought so hard during the election."

Obama, a last-minute addition to the convention program, has been both a hero and an obstacle to the 2,000 liberal Democrats who've been meeting since Thursday to plot their political future.

After two days of strategy seminars, the crowd Saturday also spent an hour gently grilling House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who got a standing ovation, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid got a similar ovation, but his comments were received with only polite applause because he presides over a chamber where popular legislation on government-run health care, energy policy and other proposals have been stymied.

"There are times I get on your nerves," he said with a smile. "I'm here to tell you you get on my nerves."

Obama is an even more difficult figure for the netroots. They think their Internet networks helped elect him in 2008 _ and Obama Saturday acknowledged their influence, referring to them as "we" _ but they want to see a greater push in several areas, including health care, financial regulation, gay rights and other issues.

Be patient, Obama urged them. His message included a brief recitation of his accomplishments by liberal TV commentator Rachel Maddow, who noted that Congress has passed landmark health care and financial regulation legislation.

Remember, Obama said, "The fact is it took years to get here. It'll take time to get us out." Look at the journey, not its endpoint so far, he urged.

"In ways large and small, we've begun to deliver on the change you've fought so hard for," he said.

The former Chicago community organizer praised the netroots' chief political tactic, organizing from the ground up.

"Change is hard, but if we've learned anything these past 18 months, it's that change is possible," Obama said. "The change doesn't come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up, it comes from the netroots, from the grassroots, every American who loves their country and believes they can make a difference."

Pelosi defended Obama and Congress, blaming Republicans for delaying progress on key issues.

She won the crowd by sharing its frustration. More can be done on jobs and health care, for instance, she said, but added that "the leverage has changed" since major legislation shifts power to consumers and away from special interests.

Her most forceful pitch involved climate change legislation. Senate Democratic leaders this week abandoned an effort to vote this summer on legislation to help limit global warming. The House passed a similar measure last year.

"Time is running out. This is not an issue you can walk away from," Pelosi insisted. "Sooner or later this has to happen, the sooner the better."

Reid offered elaborate praise for the group and explained why it takes 60 votes, the number needed to cut off debate, to get anything done in the Senate. While some attendees have said that at one point in the 111th Congress, Democrats controlled 60 seats, Reid said, "We only had 60 seats for a few weeks."

Democrats today control 59 of the 100 Senate seats.

His message was similar to Obama's: Stick with us.

"I wish we had a public option," he said of health care, but at least a major bill has passed. "We're going to have a public option. It's a question of when," Reid said.

Obama was received warmly, but doubts about him have lingered throughout this gathering.

"He's done a lot, but we have to hold him to the standard he's held himself," said Raven Brooks, the executive director of Netroots Nation.

Brooks and others cited a number of areas where they think more progress is possible, notably health care, where many liberals prefer the kind of government-run option that Pelosi and most House Democrats supported, but that stalled in the Senate.

"The health care legislation was truly historic," Brooks said, "but it's something we've been trying to do for close to 100 years, and it's not necessarily the most progressive thing."

Pelosi urged the crowd to understand that Congress had "pushed open the gate" to significant health care change, and she praised liberals for providing the political momentum that got health care legislation passed.

Members of the audience, however, argued that the momentum is fading.

"A lot of progressives feel there's really been a rightward pull," said Arshad Hasan, the executive director of Democracy for America, a liberal group. "It's our job to just keep pushing."

ON THE WEB

President Barack Obama's message to the Netroots Nation

About Netroots Nation

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