A trio of the Senate's leading progressives expressed concern on Wednesday that President Obama has squandered the transformational political coalition that propelled him into office, concluding that he will pay a price for it.
Speaking at a progressive media summit, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called it a "tragic mistake" that the White House fruitlessly chased Republican votes on health care rather than take advantage of the ripe environment to pass legislation.
"What is very sad is we had hopes that [the] election was transformational in the sense of bringing people into the political process who have never been in it before," Sanders said. "I tried very hard in Vermont to bring young people into the political process. It is very hard to do. Obama did it. But you know where those young people are now? They are not in the political process. They really aren't. We have lost them. We have antagonized trade unionists. We have not done well with seniors. I don't think we have done well with women. And I think that was a tragic mistake."
Certainly, the Vermont Independent was tossing red meat to the liberal crowd. A cadre of bloggers, talk show hosts and radio personalities at the forum repeatedly pressed the senators in attendance to be more aggressive at selling the Democratic agenda -- whether on television or in discussions with the White House.
Alongside Sanders, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) acknowledged that the president's commitments, specifically in regard to health care reform, had come up short. Discussing the idea of Medicare expansion, he said that the Senate didn't have the will to pursue such a policy because "the president wasn't going to fight for it."
"I know that a lot of you are discouraged about what has happened in the last year," Brown said. "Discouraged that the conservative, moderate wing of the Democratic Party too often seems to holds sway over both caucuses."
Echoing the Ohio Democrat, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), admitted that frictions exist within the party over the best path of governance. And, as a result, the message and achievements suffered.
"Not only do we struggle among ourselves because of our differences. But we are not all on the same page all the time," she said.
The harshest indictment (certainly when it came to assessing the job done by the president) was delivered by Sanders. The Vermonter proclaimed that it was a tactical error to start the health care process by stressing the need for legislation to get 60 votes. And he called it only practical that constituencies -- most prominently the nation's youth and its union members -- will sour on the president after he backtracked on campaign promises.
"I happen to believe that Obama ran the best campaign I've seen in my lifetime," Sanders said. 'I think the mistake was made after the election -- that we forget about the grassroots in this country, we forget about the trade unions and we say to them, 'Well, when we campaigned we [were] telling you we were opposed to McCain's tax on health care benefits, but now we have changed our mind.'"
"I think what we have got to re-engage in, is a progressive clear agenda," he added. "I think we have got to go out and rally the American people, get the young people involved again... and engage the grassroots in this country in a significant political battle as we bring forward simple straightforward progressive legislation that takes on the special interests."
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