Netroots Nation event reveals unhappiness among Obama supporters

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.”

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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Wilfahrt on 06/20/2011 - 09:35 am.

    I’m inclined to agree that Obama has failed to produce. If he is biding his time to strike for progressive causes in a second term he needs to signal that very clearly.

    He’ll probably get my vote as the lesser of two evils but I’ll be hard pressed to argue the case that he is going to deliver a darn thing on the progressive agenda.

    Jeff Wilfahrt, Rosemount, MN

  2. Submitted by Susan McNerney on 06/20/2011 - 09:41 am.

    Folks, there is a poll up on Daily Kos (the originator of Netroots Nation) right now that was done by a polling firm that walked around the convention polling people with an iPad. The poll is showing 80% of attendees support the president. That’s overwhelming, even if some have reservations about specific policies.

    Might want to take a look at that poll and revise this article for balance.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/20/2011 - 09:52 am.

    Obama has been a great disappointment. The problem is that he is the same guy he was in 2008 really, but he got me to vote for him by pretending be something else. Unfortunately it’s the same Democrat bait-n-switch. He blew a fantastic opportunity and is now weaker than he was when he got elected. I don’t see the point in even taking the House back because he’s already proven that he won’t do anything with it.

    I think he’ll get a second term, but not because he’s so great, only because the Republicans are going to run some whacko against him.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/20/2011 - 09:58 am.


    Walking around with an iPad is about as unreliable a survey method as you can get. Furthermore, “support” is a vague term that can mean a lot of things. He doesn’t just need progressives to vote for him, he needs us to work for him. I don’t know anyone who’s gonna work for him again. Plenty of people will plug their noses and vote for him, but we can’t argue on his behalf when he’s betrayed so much trust. The only question is what difference will it make come election time?

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/20/2011 - 10:03 am.

    I mean, he goes golfing with the Republicans… how fricken lame is that? And then there’s the beer thing… and that time he turned a press about the economy over to Bill Clinton. I like the Bin Laden assassination though, stomped on Trump, that was good.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/20/2011 - 10:54 am.

    It’s all about the opponents.

    McCain/Palin? I bet you forgot that powerhouse team already. There were other pairings that would have given Obama more of a run.

    Romney/Bachman? Bachman/Paul? Romney/Pawlenty? Bachman/Palin?

    By the way, who would progressives support out of the 2012 Republicans?


    I thought so.

  7. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 06/20/2011 - 11:33 am.

    To me, this is all about expectations. I have never seen a president elected with such high expectations. People expected him to solve EVERYTHING, and after eight years of Bush EVERYTHING need solving. But realistically, Obama has done more – considering the hole he was in – than any president in my life.

  8. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 06/20/2011 - 11:36 am.

    I think you are on to something with this article. I meet regularly with a rural swing district DFL unit. Almost to a person the executive board is not just unhappy with Obama but MAD. They will vote for him but won’t campaign for him. It’s not a matter of pique but a matter of having no motivation-a deeply personal loss of energy. They are just as unhappy with Amy, too.

  9. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 06/20/2011 - 11:39 am.

    I really regret taking this position so far in advance of the 2012 election, there are so many events yet to unfold; but, in my opinion, President Obama hasn’t got what it takes to lead as the president. He certainly is a man of his time, he is likeable, and I believe he knows what needs to get done, but he is unable to lead, hire, fire and manage his inner circle.

    And folks, a wheel without a hub is just a broken hoop and a pile of sticks wishing they were spokes again.

    The people who developed Obama’s so-called economic policies — for the most part academics — bailed out when it was clear they knew nothing about the real world.

    The people who managed the lame duck session last year, when the democrats held ALL the cards…well, “lame duck” is the right word to describe them.

    The people who spent a year developing to the so-called affordable healthcare law…or whatever its called…most citizens are still wondering what it will do, or not do, and for who, and when, and how much will it cost? After year, and countless meetings in pubilc and in secret, it’s still a secret (I guess).

    The banking bill by Dodd and Franks, another watered down nothing…my prediction: We will again bailout those who are too big to fail.

    The effort to protect equity loss in residential housing…a complete failure.

    The wimping-out from taking any role in metigating the BP Deep Horizen oil well rupture in Gulf of Mexico.

    The unjust firing of General McChrystal who wasn’t insubordinate, and who was the kind of guy we needed somewhere. The General didn’t deserve being “branded” like he was.

    I left out the military actions on purpose. We are in them and need to get out of these “wars of choice” begun by people who didn’t spend time in uniform.

    I voted for President Obama in 2008, and I gave his campaign money, but not this time around…I will vote Libertarian or Green, no more repub’s or dem’s…never again…

  10. Submitted by Christopher Bell on 06/20/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    Progressives should review our presidential election history beginning in 1980: Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, G. W. Bush and finally Obama. And then there is the elction in 2010 when really right-wing GOP politicians were elected throughout the country. Our country is politically quite conservative. It is hardly progressive. While I wish it were more progressive politically, wishing won’t make it so. Presidents have to rule from the center or center-right. That is the reality. The GOP controls the House of Representatives as a result of the 2010 election. Do progressives really think the 2010 elections would have resulted in a Democratically-controlled House if Obama had been more “progressive”? If we don’t work for Obama, and the GOP takes the White House in 2012, will we be dancing in the streets because the non-progressive Obama lost? Get real, folks!

  11. Submitted by craig furguson on 06/20/2011 - 12:54 pm.

    “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.” Maybe Obama wasn’t the person we thought he was.

  12. Submitted by Bill Gilles on 06/20/2011 - 01:43 pm.

    Who an activist “Votes for” isn’t really an issue. Activists will always vote and can be taken for granted to do so, the problem for a campaign is when that’s all they do.

    McCain had this problem in 2008 (at least in MN) where phone banks were ghost towns and door knockers non-existent. Contrasted to Bush in 2004 – getting volunteers was very difficult.

    Obama will likely have to make due with less activist support and hope that incumbency trumps the loss of activist enthusiasm.

  13. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 06/20/2011 - 01:44 pm.

    Progressive purists should start thinking instead of just complaining. They brought us the TParty to power in Minnesota and nationally by not voting in 2010. Expecting one man to overcome a right wing U.S. House and a Senate hampered by the filibuster is simply ignorance. Politics is about compromise, not purity tests or I’ll sulk and go home, or worse yet complain loudly about the better of one’s choices.

  14. Submitted by Marcia Brekke on 06/20/2011 - 01:56 pm.

    Obama is president of all the people, and sadly for Dems, this is a right-leaning electorate on the whole. If Bush hadn’t left such a total mess in his wake, Obama would have had a much harder time getting elected.

    Listening to Governor Rick Perry on MSNBC this morning was worrisome. He has that ability to “cloud men’s minds” (as The Shadow used to do on the old radio program–oldsters like me know the phrase) with his heated delivery–so un-Pawlenty-like. Perry’s “solutions” are as solidly far-right as TPaw’s, if not more so, and with his salesman qualities, Perry would be a formidable opponent and a scary president. So, yes, the “lesser” of two evils will be far, far better than anyone I’ve seen on the Republican side.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/20/2011 - 02:09 pm.

    //Our country is politically quite conservative.

    See, this is where Democrats and liberals go wrong. This is merely an excuse for the status quo. The leadership is conservative, but the people have always been leagues ahead of the leadership, from civil rights, to health care, to the Viet Nam war. The problem is the Democratic leadership is conservative, and that’s why they have trouble winning elections. Instead of providing a clear and populist liberal agenda they play “me-to” with the Republicans. People don’t vote for conservatives because they’re conservative, they don’t have a choice Democrat or Republican. If you look at the issues the Republicans have always been in the minority from abortion to school prayer, to labor rights. It’s like Wellstone used to say: “I’m from the liberal wing of the Democratic party”. Problem is the Democrats won’t a a liberal for president.

  16. Submitted by James Blum on 06/20/2011 - 04:10 pm.

    I think there are a lot of people who feel the way I feel about Obama. In 2008 I voted FOR Obama, because I believed he could help steward the kind of change I wanted to see in my country. I have (re)learned a hard lesson since that election, and in 2012 Obama likely will receive my vote. The difference, though, is that in 2012 I will not be voting FOR Obama, I will be voting AGAINST the potential damage that a Republican president could do. That may seem like semantics, but there is an active component to the difference. Unlike 2008, in 2012 I won’t be working a phone bank, I won’t be doing GOTV work, I won’t be actively doing anything to promote the Obama campaign. I’ll be just another disenchanted voter.

  17. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/20/2011 - 05:52 pm.

    Democrats talk about the miserable eight years under Bush, but the average unemployment rate during the Bush years was about 4.5%

    The price of gasoline when Bush left office was about $1.85 a gallon.

    This election is going to be about jobs and the economy in general.

    It’ll be interesting to see Obama try to run on his record when the GOP candidate (Rick Perry, imho) asks the same question Ronald Reagan did in 1980: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

    Texas has created about 40% of all the new jobs that have been created in the entire country over the past two years and the oil industry there reminds us how much lower gas prices would be if the government got out of the way of new oil exploration and development.

    Obama’s toast.

  18. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 06/20/2011 - 06:35 pm.

    Senior citizens and some other groups will vote in great numbers in 2012, just as they have in past elections; however, one has to wonder about young people. In 2008 many young citizens were moved by Obama’s message of change and went to the polls, but they now feel that they were deceived and may not vote next year. If many simply stay home, Obama could be in trouble.

  19. Submitted by Liz Latham on 06/20/2011 - 08:23 pm.

    For the life of me, I will never understand why the president hasn’t tried to control the narrative for his progressive agenda.

    He doesn’t use his considerable oratory skills to to win the electorate over to his way of thinking. Instead, he continually allows the right wing bananas to seize control of the debate using outrageous lies and distortions about his motives and intensions.

    I’m sick of watching the weak conterpunching from him and his timid spokespeople. How about landing the first punch for a change?

    And if I hear those White House flunkies telling progressives that the president “shares their frustrations” one… more…time, I will lose my mind! We are tired of hearing how the president wants to do the right thing but that those mean old Republicans won’t let him.

    For heaven sakes, even in a world with a powerful right wing propaganda organization like Fox News, the president isn’t powerless to convince the voting public that he’s on their side.

    But he doesn’t bother to do so. He simply allows the right to define him and his policies, then acts surprised that many people believe the lies.

  20. Submitted by Patrick Wells on 06/20/2011 - 09:55 pm.

    I believe Obama is an extraordinarily competent president. I believes that his intentions are good. We are fortunate to have him in the job. He can not, by himself, overcome the Republican House of Representative; so, he must make compromises to govern.

    However, I am also disappointed in Obama and in the Democrats. At the time of Obama’s election, Time magazine had run a picture of Obama, portrayed in FDR’s likeness, riding in the presidental limosine. This visual promise of another New Deal never materialized.

    The best example of Obama’s (i.e. the Democratic Party’s) failure is seen in the banking system. The criminal bankers who ruined our standard of living were not prosecuted.

    By comparision to Obama, FDR courageously reformed the corrupt banking system with the Glass Stegal Act. Our economy cannot recover until we can again trust the banking system.

  21. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 06/20/2011 - 11:28 pm.

    Has anyone here (or anyone at Netroots Nation) been following what has been going on in Wisconsin the last couple of months? Seriously, are people that out of touch with reality? Because if Obama does not get re-elected, and the Democrats lose the Senate (which almost certainly will happen if Obama loses) you will see a repeat of Wisconsin on a national level.

    “What’s in it for us?” How about not having everything that Democrats have accomplished over the last 100 years erased? How about not having our country torn apart and re-built in the image of right-wing billionaires and Ayn Rand freaks? The idea that people on the left don’t have an incentive to work hard to get Obama re-elected is ludicrous.

    When you say that you won’t give money to Obama or won’t work for him, are you trying to send Obama a message? Do you want him to lose? Are you indifferent to him losing? Do you think that your progressive causes are going to get a better shake in a government completely run by Republicans? I just don’t get it. There are a lot of people in Wisconsin who are out protesting and working on recalls and doing everything they can now, but who were sitting on the sidelines last fall when it really mattered. You will never convince hard-core Nader-ites that there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans, but two wars started in Bush’s first term resulted in Nader losing 85 percent of his support between 2000 and 2004 and his 2000 running mate endorsing John Kerry. How many times do progressives have to keep learning this lesson?

    Am I disappointed by Obama? Yes, for a lot of the same reasons as others here and at Netroots Nation. Just like I was disappointed in Bill Clinton after the excitement of his election in 1992. Just like people have been disapointed in other presidents – on both sides of the aisle. Its much harder actually governing than campaigning. The election itself is like the Super Bowl – if your team wins, that’s all there is – there is nothing better. Its black and white. Governing involves a lot of gray. And it turns out that some of those tens of millions of people who voted for your candidate had very different ideas about what your candidate should be and aren’t really on your team at all. It takes the votes of a lot of different people to win an election and you can’t make them all happy. Put simply, the disappointment being expressed here always happens and it has happened again with Obama. Maybe he could have done some things better, but history shows that this was going to happen.

    Anyway, if you are really a progressive – if you care about the issues on which Obama has disappointed you – you will quit your whining, suck it up and work hard to get him re-elected. I don’t want to be giving you this lecture in 2013.

  22. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 06/21/2011 - 06:07 am.

    While the DFL has deployed its hacks to “comment” on this article for Obama, their hysteria is too obvious. The facts are that Obama is the most evil President in American History. ON every major issue from the Bank Bailout of October 2008 to the Doddering Frank bankers’ bill, until today, he deliberately sides with the banksters that FDR opposed.

    Want more proof? Obama is fanatically opposed to Marcy Kaptur’s (Ohio-D) HR 1489, which would restore Glass Steagall law = the centerpiece of the FDR administration = that existed from 1933 until 1999, and which repeal caused the current catastrophic economic depression.

    So, Progressives, get off your butt, and get your Congress Person to co sponsor HR 1489, and blast the banksters off the planet. This Act alone will realign the political landscape, and all the rats will scurry from the HMS Obama.

  23. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/21/2011 - 06:54 am.

    Dennis (#17)

    Your Texas:

    …Texas added 853,400 jobs from January 2001 through June 2010. Of those, 308,800 were government jobs. That’s about 36 percent…


    During the recession, average weekly wages stayed fairly stable in New York, California and the U.S. as a whole, while Texas’ dropped to $750 per week, a drop of about 5.5 percent. Since the end of the recession, wages have generally risen in all of those regions. From December 2007 to April 2011, weekly wages in Texas increased 0.6 percent, compared to 2.5 percent in New York, 9.3 percent in California and 5.0 percent in the U.S.

    As of April 2011, the average weekly wage was $790 in Texas ($41,000), $900 in New York ($47,000), $930 in California ($48,000) and $790 in the U.S. ($41,000).

    Additionally, Texas has by far the largest number of employees working at or below the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour in 2010) compared to any state, according to a BLS report.

    In 2010, about 550,000 Texans were working at or below minimum wage, or about 9.5 percent of all workers paid by the hour in the state. Texas tied with Mississippi for the greatest percentage of minimum wage workers, while California had among the fewest (less than 2 percent)….

    …From 2007 to 2010, the number of minimum wage workers in Texas rose from 221,000 to 550,000, an increase of nearly 150 percent….the number of Texans making minimum wage or less rose from 474,000 to 550,000 [in 2010], an increase of 16 percent.

    The median hourly earnings for all Texas workers was $11.20 per hour in 2010, compared to the national median of $12.50 per hour.

    As General Philip Sheridan said:

    “If I owned Texas and Hell I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.”

  24. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/21/2011 - 08:00 am.

    //Has anyone here (or anyone at Netroots Nation) been following what has been going on in Wisconsin the last couple of months? Seriously, are people that out of touch with reality? Because if Obama does not get re-elected, and the Democrats lose the Senate (which almost certainly will happen if Obama loses) you will see a repeat of Wisconsin on a national level.

    Dan, that’s exactly the problem, and it’s why I’m not a Democrat. For the last 30 years the only reason to vote for a Democrat is because they warn us what will happen if someone else gets elected. And, if they get elected we get Republican-Light policies anyways. Democrats offer a slow retreat instead of a route… and then they get routed anyways. It’s not brain surgery, if you want votes you have give people something to vote for, not just something to vote against. If I’m going to vote for losers I may as well vote for losers who represent me.

  25. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 06/21/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    “[I]f you want votes you have give people something to vote for, not just something to vote against. If I’m going to vote for losers I may as well vote for losers who represent me.”

    Paul, I’m glad to know that you are fortunate enough to have the luxury of taking that kind of position. Unfortunately for millions of Americans – the poor, the disabled, the chronically sick, Medicare recipients, public employees, etc. – there are real consequences to the coming election.

    The idea that you have to give people something to vote for as opposed to something to vote against could not be further from the truth. The last election – in which the Republicans ran against Obama’s health care law,(which was something, at least in theory, for people to vote for) – is a perfect example.

    There were a lot of people in Wisconsin that shared your attitude last fall, and they are all kicking themselves now. Your self-righteous indignation at the “slow retreat” of the Democrats is going to be cold comfort when the Republicans lead a full-out retreat of everything Democrats have accomplished in the last century.

  26. Submitted by Shirley Gallagher on 06/23/2011 - 04:32 pm.

    President Obama has accomplished a great deal since he been in office.
    But people forget the President is not along in Washington D.C., and policies has to be approved by a lot of politicans’. President Obama knows this better than any President ever.
    Everthing this President has tried to do or has done has been critized from both Parties and people who just hate him.
    American’s complain about little thing like same Sex Marriage,DADT,Immigration,Civil Right.

    When we are an economic crisis and President Obama is trying to find a way to create jobs, unemployment,protecting Healthcare,protecting our Solders War around the world, with every evil force pulling against him.
    I have a question for when you House is on fire whats your priorities?.
    If you really want to know what President Obama has done for you than search for it pull it up, i did, it maybe its not one of the item on your list, but it has been don.
    Compromise; on Bush tax cut so 6 millions American had food to eat. Vetod a quick fix to protect comsuers’, this one you don’t about it wasn’t pass on to the public.
    The House Forclousers were blamed on President Obama, but it was to do Regulators and Wall Street and Mers Company which is in cour today.
    6/21/11 JP Morgan Chase to pay $153.6 million in Mortgaga Fraud Case.
    This were not a Media Breaking story.

  27. Submitted by Shirley Gallagher on 06/23/2011 - 04:49 pm.

    Attempted legislative fix
    In an apparent attempt to resolve some of the issues with missing, lost, and
    sometimes fraudulent paperwork both the United States House of Representatives
    and the United States Senate passed H.R. 3808 which would force courts to
    recognize out of state and electronic notarizations. The bill passed the Senate
    through a verbal vote, and wasn’t publicly debated. President Barack Obama,
    fearing “unintended consequences on consumer protections”[23] utilized his veto
    powers, at first using a pocket veto by simply not signing the bill, and later
    by issuing a more formal protective-return veto.[24]

  28. Submitted by David Willard on 07/02/2011 - 09:51 am.

    Nut Roots seems perpetually unhappy with capitalism itself. Get thee to Cuba!

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