(MINNEAPOLIS) -- The frustrations and the fears that progressives feel about President Obama were on full display Thursday as thousands of them flocked to Minneapolis for the sixth annual Netroots Nation conference.
Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold said he hoped that Obama will be re-elected, but he urged the president to stand up to corporate interests, demanding that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling become a focal point of the 2012 campaign.
“Sometimes we have to be very direct with the Democratic Party. Just as you have long pushed our Democrats to stand up for their ideals, I’m here this evening to ask you to redouble your efforts because I fear that the Democratic Party is in danger of losing its identity,” Feingold said in his keynote address to a crowd of around 2,400 progressive activists and bloggers at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the most ever for the event.
Specifically, Feingold ripped Priorities USA, a super political action committee started last spring by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton.
“I think it’s a mistake for us to take the argument that they like to make that, ‘Well, what we’re going to do now is, we’re going to take the corporate money like the Republicans do and then after we win, we’ll change it.’ When’s the last time anyone did that? Most people don’t change the rules after they win by them. It doesn’t usually happen. It never happens,” Feingold said.
“It’s not just campaigns and contributions,” Feingold noted. “We have to say to the president, ‘Mr. President, Jeff Immelt is not the right guy -- the CEO of GE is not the right guy to be running your Jobs & Competitiveness Council, not when your company doubled its profits, increased his compensation, and asked its workers to take huge pay and benefits cuts.”
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean also addressed the opening day of the conference, noting that “grousing about the president is a stage we have to go through.” Dean said he will continue to support the president, but rather than focus on Obama, he suggested, people should focus on what they can do in their own communities.
Others, though, were far more outspoken in their criticism of the Obama administration. Adam Bonin, the chairman of Netroots who was once a law student of Obama’s at the University of Chicago, tried to explain why progressives are unhappy with the president.
“I think people are frustrated with President Obama. Obviously he came in with a lot of energy and a tremendous amount of support from this community,” Bonin said in an interview with ABC News. “And while a great deal has been accomplished, there are things that just haven’t been done yet on the economy, on judges, on foreign policy, and that frustration is out there.”
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