03/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Lets Progressives In The Gate... Now What?

News that a cadre of progressive groups and leaders schmoozed with the president represents a symbolic end-note of sorts to eight years that saw the same constituency navigating the political wilderness.

On Wednesday night, officials with several major labor unions, environmental organizations, human and woman's rights groups, and liberal stalwarts attended a private White House reception with the president, his wife, and select members of his staff.

Notably, the guests discussed ways in which the progressive infrastructure could help the administration amplify its message. But it was the meeting itself -- and its specific attendees -- that seemed most poignant.

For the past eight years, and in some cases beyond that, groups like the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, and unions at large have been banging against the White House gates, focused as much on defeating the president's agenda as championing their own priorities. Now inside the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the dynamics are different and better... but, perhaps, no less daunting.

"I think progressive groups will be in a position of needing to step out front and create the political environment for a fundamentally progressive president to do what he really wants to do," explained Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and former Director of Strategic Campaigns for MoveOn.org. "The White House won't always find this pushing to be politically convenient in the short term, but that's the way big, long-term change happens, and everyone gets that."

Added a guest at last night's affair: "I think a lot of the groups there were used to rallying outside the White House gates. Those 100 feet [between the gate and door] make a big difference. It was a very gracious move on their part and it signals an openness to have the conversation with the progressive movement. But I don't think anyone thought to themselves: 'we will agree on all things all the time'"

That description may be most apt for MoveOn. Founded in the 1990s to beat back calls for President Clinton's impeachment, the organization grew into a political behemoth on the back of its opposition to George W. Bush and the Iraq war. Its membership, clicking in at a cool 5 million, is a major force for governance. It can provide President Obama with critical grassroots support. But officials with the organization aren't approaching their new access with naivete. There will be moments of confrontation between MoveOn and the president.

"The calibration of advocating for their issue, and praising when things go well, and criticizing when things don't go in the right direction is something they are going to have to learn," said one MoveOn alumnus. Among the issues that seem bound to create the most tensions are those of the foreign policy realm. If, say, Obama should deviate in his plan for withdrawing troops from Iraq or push for greater military engagement in Afghanistan, it will be curious to see how MoveOn reacts.