Obama White House Shows Progressives Not Much Love

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


The crowd at this year’s Campaign for America’s Future annual conference–think of a DC-based ProgFest for liberal activists and policy wonks from across the country–was much smaller than in years past. The conference, which opened on Monday, seemed to have about one-fourth the attendees of last year, when about 2000 people turned up for the “Take Back America” shindig. This year’s event was dubbed “America’s Future Now!”

The drop-off is not surprising. In fact, it’s the cost of success. Now that George W. Bush is long gone (even if the same cannot be said for Dick Cheney) and Barack Obama, the onetime community organizer, is in The House, it’s natural that some of the fire on the left is gone. Winning can demotivate a political side. And I remember that in 1994, after the Democrats lost the House to the Republicans for the first time in decades, Representative Barney Frank told me that it was more fun to be in a fired-up opposition.

What wasn’t to be expected was the lack of love the Obama White House showed the conference’s organizers. Obama himself came to the event in 2006 and 2007. He skipped it last year because he was campaigning, but he won its straw poll. After all, the annual conference embodies his base. As he noted during his 2007 appearance before the group, “It will be because of you that we take America back.” He celebrated the campaign’s efforts, noting that change comes from the bottom up due to the work of the sort of activists who were attending the gathering.

That was then. This year, Obama will not be making the mile or so drive from the White House to the hotel hosting the conference. Nor will he be sending Vice President Joe Biden. In fact, the three-day program is light on representation from the Obama administration. At the opening event on Monday morning, Jared Bernstein, Biden’s chief economic adviser, made some general comments about the administration’s policies and then quickly left before there could be any real debate or discussion between him and other panelists (who had expressed skepticism regarding the administration’s various bailouts). Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was scheduled to speak at a panel on health care reform later in the day. And Celia Munoz, the White House director of intergovernmental affairs, was scheduled to give out the Paul Wellstone Leadership Award at the group’s gala dinner on Tuesday.

That’s it–not much of a payback to the base.

During the tough primary face-off between Obama and Hillary Clinton last year, many of the Take Back America types were on his side, making up that base of Democratic progressives who wanted an end to the Iraq war. But the Obama White House isn’t showing its appreciation. At the moment, Obama is riding high and may not need that base. But there are rough battles to come–health care reform and cap-and trade, for instance–and in politics, you never know when tables will turn and you’ll need your friends. It would have been a wise move–and just plain menschy–for the Obama White House to have shared itself a bit more with the folks who Obama said helped him to win America.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate