White House hopes to get liberals in line for November elections

President Obama and Vice President Biden indicated last week that they are concerned that liberals disappointed with Obama's policies might stay home this November, potentially costing Democrats control of Congress.

Obama made one key gesture to the left on Friday when he appointed Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the Democratic Party’s liberal base, to an advisory role at the new consumer protection agency.

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Liberal groups applauded Warren’s appointment, but the White House has a long way to go before matching the enthusiasm that greeted Obama’s presidential run in 2008.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged this summer that there is a great deal of frustration in the West Wing with attacks from the "professional left," liberal commentators who say Obama has compromised on too much of his agenda.

But recent remarks from the president and vice president illustrate that both men see the support of disappointed liberals as important to retaining the House and Senate come November.

At a fundraiser in Connecticut on Thursday night, Obama joked that Democrats "just congenitally, tend to see the glass as half empty."

"If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there," Obama said. "If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don't know about this particularly derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and … I thought that was going to happen quicker. You know who you are."

Since Obama took office, a number of liberals have openly groused about the pace the president has taken in repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell." The left was also disappointed by the exclusion of a public health insurance option from the healthcare legislation and the continued failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

There is an apparent concern in the West Wing that those same disappointed liberals might not vote in the midterms, conceding the enthusiasm advantage to the right and the Tea Party movement.

Biden went as far as to go on to the professional left's turf, appearing on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC Wednesday and telling "our progressive base… you should not stay home."

"You better get energized," Biden said. "Because the consequences are serious for the outcome of the things we care most about."

White House officials said there was not a concerted effort to reign in the base last week. Gibbs noted that Biden's appearance had been rescheduled from an earlier cancellation and said Obama is not tailoring his message toward liberals.


"Look, the president is going to make an appeal in this election season to everybody in this country, not — not just one political party or not just one ideological bend," Gibbs said Friday.

"The steps that he's taken to strengthen the economy and address many of the fundamental problems that our country has faced for many years, that's a case that he wants to make to the whole of the country," Gibbs said.

But one Democratic source acknowledged that Obama will be looking to "actively remind" liberals of what he has done in office in the run-up to the midterms.

The push to get the left in line comes as the right has flexed its muscles, putting the White House on notice that conservatives are intensely energized for this November's elections.

Bill Press, a White House correspondent and unofficial member of the professional left, said the White House efforts to reach out to the Democratic base are smart strategy.

"The left is clearly feeling 'left-out' and needs energizing; nobody can do it better than Obama and Biden; and they've got a good case to make: Namely, if you don't get out and fight back, we could lose everything we've gained the last two years," Press said. "No guarantee it will work, but they have no choice."

Larry Berman, a political science professor at the University of California-Davis, said that Obama and his team should be more worried about losing independents and moderate Republicans who voted for Obama in 2008.

"The administration’s recent fire in the belly approach is certainly welcomed by the left, but it will probably not be enough for independent s and moderates who see another change election in the offing," Berman said.