MINNEAPOLIS, MN.— Liberal activists gave White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer a chilly reception on Friday at an online political conference as he tried to defend the Obama administration’s policies on gay marriage, Afghanistan and tax cuts.
To heckling and some loud boos, Pfeiffer drove home two themes to activists attending the Netroots Nation conference: change is hard and installing a Republican in the White House would be much worse than reelecting President Obama.
Leading up to 2012, tensions have spiked considerably between Obama and liberal activists as the latter group slams the Administration’s alleged inaction on some issues, and criticize compromises made on others, such as health-care reform.
“I’m going to suggest to [Obama] that we need to continue to have a conversation with this group of people and the people watching around the country,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer contended that the administration had gotten an “historic amount of things done in the first two years” despite the “challenges” posed by a Congress that didn’t always cooperate. He pointed to the Lily Ledbetter Act, which extended the amount of time people could sue for alleged wage discrimination.
“Frankly we’re a little sick of hearing about that one,”replied moderator Kaili Joy Gray.
But it’s unclear whether the activists’ anger is a true reflection of the Democratic base.
Polls show Obama’s approval rating with liberals holding steady, although there are some signs of waning enthusiasm.
On Friday, Pfeiffer further ruffled feathers by refusing to answer a number of specific questions that have served as liberal rallying cries during Obama’s first term.
For example, he would not say whether the White House would promise to stand against raising the age limit for Social Security. “I’m not going to have a negotiation with Republicans here on the stage with you,” Pfeiffer said.
On the war in Afghanistan, Pfeiffer wouldn’t disclose details of the administration’s exit strategy, instead telling activists that they should wait for Obama’s July 2011 announcement about possible troop drawdowns.
While the event gave liberals a chance to vent their frustration at the president, they got no new promises, and it’s unlikely that the White House attitude towards the left will change substantially.
Some attendees were frustrated by the direction of the questioning. “It had the illusion of confrontation without actually asking the most relevant or newsworthy questions,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Pfeiffer started his Friday speech by saying, “Without the people in this room today, Obama would not be president of the United States” — a line that drew mild applause from the crowd.
But the applause got much louder when moderator Gray pressed Pfeiffer on gay marriage, ending tax cuts for the wealthy, the war in Afghanistan and other issues where liberals feel Obama has strayed.