President Barack Obama speaks at a fundraiser in New York City, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama’s lecture to his supporters to snap out of their lethargy is getting a frosty reception from some on the left side of the Democratic coalition.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Obama made a point to argue — “with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger” according to the magazine — that his followers in 2008 must not stay home this year.
“It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election,” Obama said.
Whatever complaints they might have about climate change or other issues, Obama said, it is “just irresponsible” that some Democrats and progressives were lacking enthusiasm for the election.
“If people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place,” he said. “If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.”
“I think it is a remarkably condescending message,” said Darcy Burner, the executive director of ProgressCongress.org and the Progressive Congress Action Fund.
Progressives, she said, continue to be deeply involved in policy and in politics and are not at all lethargic or disengaged.
“The fact that they are frustrated and discouraged has as much to do with the rhetoric coming out of the White House as anything else,” she said. “And this is the latest example of that.”
“Here we have a president who over and over again said that a public option was going to be a key part of the health care plan — who then, it turns out, cut a deal to get rid of the public option. And he’s upset at the base that worked so hard to try to get a meaningful health care bill,” she said.
"The least he could do is acknowledge that progressives have legitimate concerns. Instead he’s condescending. It’s not helpful.”
Burner said her group and other progressives are focused on helping candidates such as Ann McLane Kuster in New Hampshire, Rep. John Hall in New York, Rep. Alan Grayson in Florida, and Rep. Phil Hare in Illinois.
“Progressives who are politically active are engaged in the midterms,” Burner said, “The concern about turnout isn’t that actively engaged political types won’t vote; the concern is that all of the people who got excited by the promise of change in the 2008 election, who voted for the first time or who’d voted rarely, aren’t going to show up because they feel let down.”
She pointed to Gallup Poll data showing that, by a two-to-one margin, the people who don’t like the health care bill said it didn’t go far enough.
“His contention — that the problem is that the people who believed in him are whiners — is not productive,” she said. “If he wants folks to be excited, he should do something to get them excited — or he should at least stop kicking them while they’re down.”
Jim Dean, head of Democracy for America, a progressive group that has dispatched field workers to help several Democratic candidates, said of Obama’s remarks: “I’m not sure who’s being addressed here because I find that progressives — although frustrated — are working on campaigns. I know there’s a narrative out there about the enthusiasm gap, but especially for those who worked for Obama to get elected, I don’t think he’s addressing the right group.”
Dean said DFA’s online training sessions to do get-out-the-vote efforts had been well attended with more than 1,000 people in recent weeks taking the training.
DFA also dispatched field organizers to help Democratic candidates such as Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia and Manan Trivedi in Pennsylvania.
“There’s nobody around here — and nobody I’ve seen — that’s taking their ball and going home,” Dean said, rebutting Obama’s remark.
Progressive blogger Jane Hamsher was harsher in her criticism of Obama. “This isn’t about GOTV,” she wrote on her blog. “It’s about setting up a narrative for who will take the blame for a disastrous election. And once again, the White House doesn’t care if they make matters worse in order to deflect responsibility from Obama….”
She said Obama was engaged in “setting up a fall guy for November. The headline should really read: Obama Distances Himself From Democratic Voters.”