As President Obama shifts increasingly into re-election mode, he is feeling persistent anger and discontent from the left as well as the right.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer was heckled and booed Friday at the annual Netroots Nation conference in Minnesota, a gathering of liberal activists from the online political community. When Mr. Pfeiffer reminded the audience that the president championed an equal-pay law, the moderator replied, “Frankly, we’re a little sick of hearing about that one.”
Less than 24 hours earlier, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley heard heated complaints from business leaders about burdensome government regulations at a meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington. As Mr. Daley listened to tales of the administration’s interference in industry, he replied, “Sometimes, you can’t defend the indefensible.”
Mr. Daley’s comment prompted some backtracking by White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“You have to understand that he [Mr. Daley] went in there with no prior knowledge about the cases that were put before him,” Mr. Carney told reporters. “But obviously the [examples] that sounded bad, he thought, you know, sounded bad, and he said so.”
The president’s uneasy relationship with the business community has endured since the beginning of his term. But as Mr. Obama has traveled the county recently to speak at Democratic fundraisers, the president also has acknowledged that liberal supporters may have grown disillusioned with his leadership.
“It’s not as cool to be an Obama supporter as it was in 2008, with the posters and all that stuff,” Mr. Obama told Democrats at an exclusive fundraiser in Miami last week. “But the values that motivated me haven’t changed, and I hope they haven’t changed for you, either.”
To another group of donors in Miami, Mr. Obama said, “There have been frustrations, and I’ve got some dings to show for it over the last 2 1/2 years. But I never said this was going to be easy.”
While various liberal groups are unhappy that Mr. Obama hasn’t done more for gay rights or withdrawn troops from Afghanistan, the weak economy is at the forefront of the unrest. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released June 8 gave Mr. Obama a 48 percent job-approval rating, down 6 percentage points from a survey in late May.
Administration officials contend that criticism from the Democratic base will be helpful ultimately.
“When Glenn Beck and John Boehner and Mitt Romney attack us, we expect that,” Mr. Pfeiffer told the Netroots conference. “And sometimes when our friends attack us, we get frustrated. It doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, to get frustrated. We want you to push us.”
Added Mr. Carney, “Some of the accomplishments that the president can claim in the first 2 1/2 years meet with approval in that [Netroots conference], and broadly beyond that. The fact that people are pressing for more to be done, whether it’s in business or in that [liberal] community, that’s the nature of our public life here. And it’s why the president says … we have much work to do.”
But as the president has tried to energize supporters, implicit in his remarks is the danger that fewer people from his 2008 army of volunteers will feel motivated to work for him in 2012.
“You’re going to have to knock on doors,” Mr. Obama told a rally in a more-than-half-empty concert hall in Miami. “You’re going to have to talk to all your friends and neighbors, and you’re going to have to talk to the naysayers.”