U.S. liberals: Time to make Obama uncomfortable

* Dispirited U.S. liberals gather for annual conference

* Say they should do more to crank up pressure on Obama

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, June 7 (BestGrowthStock) – Nineteen months after
celebrating U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic election
win, disappointed liberal activists promised on Monday to turn
up the political heat on a White House they said is too quick
to compromise.

At an annual conference of grassroots progressives, they
said the euphoria and high expectations after Obama’s victory
had lulled them into a false sense of security, and hopes for
his success had sometimes limited their criticism.

That has changed, they said, because of what they called
Obama’s go-easy approach on Wall Street, ineffectual efforts to
reduce high unemployment, watered-down healthcare and financial
regulation reforms and escalation of the Afghanistan war.

“It is not our job to make this president or this
administration comfortable. It is our job to make him do the
right thing,” said Darcy Burner, head of the Progressive
Congress Action Fund.

“There were far too many of us who thought our job was
done” after the election, she said.

Opinion polls show the surge of grassroots liberal activism
that helped propel Obama and his fellow Democrats to power in
2008 has diminished, while enthusiasm has picked up among
conservative Republicans eager to fight Obama’s agenda and
unhappy over the jobless rate and budget deficits.

Signs of the disparity were abundant at the three-day
“America’s Future Now!” conference, attended by more than 1,000
liberals at a Washington hotel where an exhibition hall housed
just a handful of group booths and displays.

A similar conference of conservatives in Washington earlier
this year drew 10,000 participants and packed a hotel ballroom
with dozens of booths manned by powerful conservative lobbies
like the National Rifle Association.

The contrast has contributed to expectations of big
Republican gains in November elections, which could wipe out
Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of
Representatives.

Liberal activists said it was time to crank up the pressure
on Obama, who they said had been too willing to compromise with
Republicans determined to obstruct his agenda.

WAITING FOR OBAMA?

“We have to stop waiting for Obama. We have to stop taking
the president’s temperature. We have to stop being critics and
start being actors,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of the
Campaign for America’s Future, which sponsored the conference.

“People are strongly feeling that they need to push more.
He has compromised too readily, too early,” he said.

Borosage said the challenge to Democratic Senator Blanche
Lincoln from the left in Tuesday’s run-off election in Arkansas
was a sign of a rebirth of progressive political activism.

Labor unions angry at Lincoln’s reluctance to back a bill
to make it easier to organize and activists unhappy with her
lukewarm support of the healthcare overhaul have been heavily
involved in the Arkansas race.

Some activists said high hopes for Obama made it hard to
criticize him.

“There is still an extraordinary loyalty to Obama and that
creates this sense of conflict,” said Gloria Totten, head of
the Progressive Majority, which recruits liberal political
candidates at the state and local level.

But Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who heads an environmental
activist group called Green for All, said Obama’s initial
acceptance of what he was told about the Gulf Coast oil spill
by officials of London energy giant BP Plc (BP.L: ) was a sign of
his hands-off approach with the corporate world.

“The handling of BP has been atrocious at best. I believe
in the president, but I believe in the needs of the Gulf Coast
residents more,” she said.

Still, some activists said passage of a broad economic
recovery plan, a sweeping healthcare overhaul, an increase in
student aid and the looming approval of financial regulatory
reforms — even if each initiative was not perfect — was an
impressive record for a new administration.

“We have achieved much more in the last 18 months than
progressives typically give ourselves credit for,” said Deepak
Bhargava, head of the Center for Community Change.

“The arrow of change is now headed in the right direction,
even if it’s not far or fast enough,” he said.

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(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

U.S. liberals: Time to make Obama uncomfortable