LAS VEGAS – President Barack Obama on 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 quizzing Speaker of the House 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 on 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.