White House to Wellstone Action

White House! Communications Director! Dan Pfeiffer! was the clear headline act on Friday morning at Netroots Nation. Probably a couple hundred people gathered in the big room to hear the Angry Mouse (Kaili Joy Gray, associate editor of Daily Kos) quiz him in a no-holds-barred session.

White House’s Dan Pfeiffer and Daily Kos’s Angry Mouse mixed it up before the Friday morning crowd:

Mouse: Can we expect a jobs bill from the President?

White House guy: The president has put forward a number of initiatives that have not been acted on yet …

Mouse: With a nine-and-a-half percent unemployment rate, why wouldn’t we have a jobs bill?

White House guy: We have a number of proposals in Congress that haven’t been acted on yet, that would create jobs.

Mouse: If it’s impossible to get these things done with a super majority, and even when he had that, he couldn’t get things done, why does it make a difference if we re-elect him?

White House guy: We got a historic amount of things done in the first two years …

Mouse: In 1996, Obama said in a response to a questionnaire: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,” and now he opposes it. … [more here]

White House guy: … He has said the country is evolving on it, and he is evolving on it.

Angry Mouse: If he doesn’t manage to evolve before 2012, why should gays and lesbians vote for him?

White House guy: Because he has been most progressive president on these issues that country has ever had

Angry Mouse: That’s a pretty low bar.

An hour later, Peggy Flanagan took the floor in a much smaller room to talk to about “Governing the Wellstone Way.” Flanagan is a former school board member, an organizer/trainer with Wellstone Action, and a member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe, which she identifies as “the largest tribe in Minnesota and the best-looking tribe in Minnesota.”Flanagan and Pfeiffer, the White House and Wellstone Action showed distinct differences in political style and substance. The White House-Angry Mouse match-up focused on high-level strategy, presidential power and Congressional (in)action, and how far the president can go without losing the support of what Gray called “the professional left.” In contrast, Flanagan talked about viewing elected office as “an extension of our community,” and being careful not to leave the community behind after election day.

Despite obvious dissatisfaction with President Obama’s performance, it’s clear that neither Angry Mouse nor the Netroots Nation audience plans to vote Republican in 2012. They are clearly and deeply disappointed in the president’s failure to deliver on campaign promises and a progressive agenda—but too savvy to believe that there’s no difference between an Obama administration and a Republican administration.

Peggy Flanagan’s presentation focused on an even bigger difference, between politics-as-usual and a more inclusive vision of politics that is “all about relationships:”

We hear about voter apathy and I think that is such crap. It just means that candidates and campaigns have not talked to people about what they care about. If all you can do is spend two minutes on a door and you’re not even from my neighborhood—that’s not building community power. Start planning a year out, two years out, and LISTENING. That’s how to find people who become engaged in our campaigns and become partners in governing. … The bottom line: you gotta show up. You have to meet people where they’re at, and where they feel comfortable.

Emphasizing the importance of talking to people outside government and of maintaining relationships across political divisions, Flanagan said the role of progressive elected officials is “to be that guy who says, ‘hey, I think there’s a different way to do this.'”

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