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A year and a half into Barack Obama's presidency, some of the people who got him elected are feeling restless. That's one of the dominant themes at this week's conference of progressives here in Washington, D.C. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports on a conference called America's Future Now.
ANDREA SEABROOK: Left-wing activists describe the year leading up to Barack Obama's election as exhilarating, empowering and exciting. Now ask them about the first year and a half of his presidency and they say...
Mr. NICK WEINER (Union Activist): Frustrating.
Professor DARA STROLOVITCH (University of Minnesota): Sobering.
Mr. STEVE PEHA (Education Consultant): Brutal.
SEABROOK: That's union activist Nick Weiner, University of Minnesota political science Professor Dara Strolovitch, and Steve Peha, who heads an education reform consultancy. Peha's the one who said the last year and a half has been brutal.
Mr. PEHA: I had hoped for something different. I had hoped for the president who ran for office and not so much the one who's in office.
SEABROOK: Peha says he's a pragmatist - he knows that campaigning and governing are different. But...
Mr. PEHA: What I wish is that President Obama had worked a little less for his ideal of bipartisanship and a little more for the people who elected him.
SEABROOK: This is the prevailing feeling at the America's Future Now conference, the liberal leadership gathering taking place in Washington this week. And no one is hiding it, from the very first panel of speakers.
Ms. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (The Huffington Post): Well, it seems like yesterday, doesn't it?
SEABROOK: Liberal blogger and pundit Arianna Huffington.
Ms. HUFFINGTON: Barack Obama was going to take office, he was going to change the world, and we would just go home and hit the couch.
SEABROOK: The head of the Campaign for America's Future, which runs this conference, called the new White House an uncertain trumpet. For example, its financial reforms, he said, are too timid and too readily compromised. And then the head of Green for All, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, said...
Ms. PHAEDRA ELLIS LAMKINS (Green for All): The handling of BP has been atrocious at best.
SEABROOK: While trying to keep positive, speaker after speaker showed deep frustration with how things have gone so far.
The audience of about a thousand is pretty sparse compared with past years, and their conversations sound less like a movement and more like therapy. In fact, when the audience was asked to discuss the central problem at their tables, they were told the essential question was: Is it him, or is it us?
Activist Marquis Jones' answer...
Mr. MARQUIS JONES (Activist): It's definitely us. I mean, we can't look at our elected officials and feel like it's their responsibility. We put them in office to be a representation of us, so it is our responsibility to make sure that they're fulfilling those obligations.
SEABROOK: But Bob Kuttner, the editor of the liberal magazine�American Prospect,�had a different answer.
Mr. BOB KUTTNER (Editor, American Prospect): We criticize Geithner, we criticize Summers, we criticize Emanuel, we criticize the oil companies, we criticize Wall Street, we criticize everybody but Obama. Because we feel a little bit goosey about criticizing Obama.
SEABROOK: Kuttner said progressives must hold President Obama accountable. Piecemeal accomplishments are not enough, he said, to keep the movement going.
Mr. KUTTNER: And if he doesn't do more on jobs, and on mortgage relief, and on a handful of things that affect regular people where they live, it all goes down the drain in the midterm. And then the moment is lost and the crazies take over.
SEABROOK: This is the greatest fear of the progressives here: losing completely the momentum and promise they felt just 18 months ago.
So if 2008 saw a dramatic romance between Mr. Obama and the left, it appears the honeymoon is now well over. Progressives here hope that some new goals -and a little therapy - will hold the marriage together.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.
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