Liberals Press Obama for More Action on Key Issues

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. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who doesn’t generate as much enthusiasm, is scheduled to take questions later Saturday, but the mention of his name got no applause.

Obama is a 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 more of a push in several areas, including health care, financial regulation and gay rights.

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, calling Republicans the culprits who’re delaying progress on key issues.

One question she didn’t answer fully was whether she’s willing to keep the House in session next month to deal with the nation’s job crisis. The House is scheduled to be in session until July 30 and then adjourn until Sept. 14.

Pelosi won the crowd by sharing their frustration. More can be done on jobs and health care, for instance, she said, but added “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.”

While Pelosi was cheered, 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.”