Liberals Press Obama for More Action on Key Issues

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McClatchy Newspapers

Liberals Press Obama for More Action on Key Issues

by
David Lightman


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 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, D-Nev.

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
grass-roots, every American who loves their country and believes they
can make a difference."

Pelosi defended Obama and Congress, calling Republicans the culprits who're delaying progress on key issues.

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

Pelosi's 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
here have noted that at one point in the 111th Congress, Democrats
controlled 60 seats, Reid noted, "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.

He
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."

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