I was honored to attend policy briefings and a reception at the White House this week along with hundreds of activists and community leaders from around the country. It was a fascinating opportunity to take the temperature of the progressive base, in that participants represented a wide range of organizations working on everything from health care to immigration to the environment.
The media has reported widely about the left's dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. But if the enthusiasm I saw at the White House is at all reflective of broader trends, then the base is much more optimistic about the administration and the campaign than has been reported. From what I could tell from the tone and content of question-and-answer sessions as well as one-on-one conversations that I had after the briefings, there was a near-consensus that the President has solved some of the nation's most critical problems:
(1) Preventing the economy from falling off a cliff. The economy was shrinking at an astounding annual rate of 7% when Obama took office. His policies brought us back from the brink;
(2) Providing health care for all. Obama got a pretty good bill through Congress, a bill that has extended coverage to more than 2 million kids. The bill has already saved lives and it will save many more;
(3) Ending the war in Iraq. It is difficult to end a war, even an unpopular one, but most of our troops are now home;
(4) Re-regulating the financial system. Dodd-Frank isn't Glass-Steagall, but it establishes important protections and enhances stability and transparency.
Stamping out unemployment is a top-priority area, of course, where the activists and community leaders agreed that the President has not yet had reached his goals. But everyone recognized that Republicans fought tooth and nail to block additional stimulus, and that the President's policies nonetheless yielded 20+ months in a row of private sector job growth.
And at the same time that he was ending a war and staving off economic collapse, the activists and community leaders were impressed that the President found Osama bin Laden, rescued the auto industry, got the START treaty through Congress, curtailed torture and cowboy diplomacy, ended "don't ask, don't tell," and appointed wise and thoughtful justices to the Supreme Court.
Everyone I spoke with recognizes that there is a lot of work left to be done, especially in the areas of climate change, labor policy, tax fairness and immigration. And, everyone wishes that health care and financial re-regulation bills were more expansive.
But folks agreed that by any reasonable standard, this administration's accomplishments have been historic. Their enthusiasm isn't just a reflection of distaste for the Republicans, but represents a genuine and, I believe, accurate sense that President Obama is an outstanding public servant.
The election is almost a year away, but the President's foot soldiers are ready to go.
POSTSCRIPT: In reading the comments below, I am reminded of Nader voters in Florida who said in 2000 that there was no difference between Gore and Bush. I have been publicly critical of the Obama administration in the past, and I continue to agree wholeheartedly with the comments of a progressive leader who said just after the 2008 election that the left has to be just as tough and frank with Obama as he will be with us. All that said, this is an election year, and for anyone who is concerned about a Gingrich or Romney administration, it is time to have the President's back. My sense of the activists and community leaders who I met in Washington is that they are glad to take up the challenge.