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Netroots Nation event reveals unhappiness among Obama supporters

Progressive bloggers and online citizens who gathered in Minneapolis this weekend for the annual conference say they are disappointed and disillusioned with the Obama administration.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean addressing the convention.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean addressing the convention.

President Obama has to do more than just keep up with the Republicans to secure his reelection in 2012. He’s got to work his base.

But that could be a problem if the sentiment at this weekend’s Netroots Nation in Minneapolis is at all widespread. The conference, an annual gathering of progressive bloggers and online citizens, was packed with activists who are disappointed, disenchanted and disillusioned with the Obama administration.

They say that Obama has retreated too often from the progressive ideals he campaigned on and has given his Republican opposition far too many concessions.

They also say that, while they’ll still vote for him, they won’t do the work that kept his campaign humming in 2008. Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said that progressive activists are the “canary in the coal mine,” referring to Obama’s chances for reelection.

In giving up on a public option in the health care reform legislation and resigning the Patriot Act, among other compromises he’s made with Republicans, Obama has managed to anger the most active sector of his base.

That’s not good.

Don Utter, a retiree from Columbus, Ohio, traveled to Minnesota to attend Netroots. But Utter, who is politically active in his community, said he won’t work for Obama because the president left his progressive ideals at the door as he walked into the White House.

When asked if he’ll help Obama 2012, Utter responded with an abrupt, “No.”

“I’m so disappointed with Obama,” he said. “He brought the same ‘Banksters’ in, he’s attacking civil liberties …”

Kaili Joy Gray grilling White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer about President Obama at the convention.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Kaili Joy Gray grilling White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer about President Obama at the convention.

Adam Green, a cofounder of the PCCC, agreed. He said his mother — who traveled to campaign for Obama in 2008 — won’t do so for 2012 because Obama hasn’t enacted many of the policies he ran on.

“I can’t in good faith lie to people again,” Green said she told him.

Forgotten promises
Some of the anger individual attendees felt against Obama’s forgotten promises bubbled into the convention’s sessions. For instance, one meeting was jokingly titled: “What to do when the president is just not that into you.”

In a conversation with White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, the questions about Obama’s record were pretty pointed as well.

Kaili Joy Gray, a Bay-area native, grilled Pfeiffer about the so-called “war on women,” the fact Obama didn’t go to Wisconsin during the publicized labor disagreements there and his stance on same-sex marriage.

Nearing the end of the discussion, Gray asked Pfeiffer why progressives should vote for Obama. “What’s in it for us?” she said.

Pfeiffer seemed to feel the heat. “I promise you, the president shares your frustration,” he said, assuring the audience that Obama is still the same person as he was on the campaign trail for the 2008 election.

Dinah Finkelstein, a New Yorker who works for a gay advocacy group, said it’s good for established politicians to hear from their base once in a while. Despite her criticisms of the Obama administration, Finkelstein said it’s constructive that “someone is showing up and listening.”

While the 2,400 progressives that came to Minneapolis for Netroots this year have their gripes with Obama, the 2010 elections refocused a lot of attentions at the state level as well. Battles in states like Wisconsin and Ohio over state workers’ rights to organize have dominated state legislative sessions this year.

For that reason, the attitude seemed to have shifted from “how can the president help us?” to “what can we do to change this?”

“There were sky high expectations for the Obama administration and I think people are realizing you don’t have to wait for that guy or some leader to do it,” said Nolan Treadway, a founder of Netroots. “You can … [make] change in your own community in your own ways and you don’t need to wait for someone to knight you.”

Former presidential candidate Howard Dean agreed. In a speech to the convention Thursday night, Dean seemed to gloss over his support for Obama in his attempt to rally the crowd.

“Change does not come from Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Change comes from the bottom up, and we will make change in our own communities and then it will spread outwards.”