SAN JOSE – Avoiding the controversial issue of domestic spying, President Obama told a gathering of liberal activists Thursday that they may not always agree with him, but their shared work on causes such as the overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system has made the country better.
"I need you to put pressure on members of Congress and make your voices heard just like you’ve always done," Obama said in a video address Thursday evening to Netroots Nation, a gathering of thousands of liberal activists and bloggers.
"We won’t always agree on everything. And I know you’ll tell me when we don’t. But if we work together, then I’m confident we’ll keep moving this country forward."
The statement by Obama came as liberal activists expressed alarm at revelations about his administration’s surveillance of phone and email records as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. The Obama administration and some political leaders on both sides of the aisle have said the previously covert effort does not violate citizens’ constitutional protections, but others have argued that the administration has infringed on Americans’ privacy and due process rights.
Obama did not mention the controversy, which has been a hot topic at the annual gathering. Instead, he spoke of his record on other issues in a nearly five-minute video that included footage of him speaking at campaign events and news clips about the end of the George W. Bush tax cuts, the extension of renewable energy subsidies and credits, the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act, and his support for same-sex marriage.
"We’ve done all these things together. But we’ve got more work to do," he said. "Because for all the progress we’ve made, too many middle-class families still aren’t seeing their hard work rewarded. That’s why our goal has to be rebuilding the true engine of America’s economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class."
Obama said more work also was needed to help businesses create jobs, increase access to quality preschool, reduce gun violence, increase Internet access, reform immigration and implement his healthcare overhaul.
"Already we’ve seen Republicans try almost 40 times to repeal the law so many of you worked so hard to pass," he said. "But if we stay focused, by next year, tens of millions of Americans will have access to better, more affordable healthcare.... We need you to help more Americans understand what this law means for them, to push back against the lies and misinformation, and to tell people why it’s important to sign up if they don’t have health insurance."
Reaction to Obama reflected the conflicted feelings many in the crowd – once Obama’s base – have about the president. Though many appreciated his work on healthcare and gay rights, they said they were simultaneously upset with him on issues such as changing Social Security.
"Is the president perfect? No. But it’s sure better than to have Bain Capital or Mitt Romney in there," former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said at a reception Thursday, referring to the venture capital firm the 2012 Republican nominee co-founded.
Dean’s brother Jim, chairman of Democracy for America, agreed.
"We are perfectly comfortable supporting Obama when he’s defending and advocating for gun violence prevention, as we are comfortable pushing back on him on drones and Social Security," he said in an interview. "He’s the president, but he’s a president we can have that conversation with. It’s a different paradigm" than with the Bush administration.
Still, he dismissed rather colorfully the Obama administration’s justification for the surveillance program as a necessary balance between security and personal freedom.
"That is such a false choice," he added.
Many attendees agreed.
"When it comes to foreign policy and national security, it’s pretty much business as usual, as the previous administration," said Randle Aubrey, a 36-year-old attendee from San Jose. He voted for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 despite his disappointments. "It's like Jello Biafra said, you vote for the lesser of two evils and then you run for the toilet. What am I going to do, vote for the other guy?"
His friend and fellow blogger, David Litton of Campbell, Calif., disagreed. The 34-year-old was an ardent supporter of Obama in 2008, and then grew disillusioned and didn’t vote in 2012.
"If I lived in a swing state last time, I probably still wouldn’t have voted for him, even though that’s a de facto half-vote for the other guy," he said. "I’m not even sure on this domestic policy, at least, they would have been very different."