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Obama tells Democrats to 'wake up'

In a Q&A released by Rolling Stone, Obama says he's kept nearly three-quarters of his campaign promises so far and urges Democrats to stop complaining and get off the sidelines for November.

September 29, 2010|Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — President Obama says that he's chosen progress on key priorities over ideological battles that may have motivated his party's base, in a new interview in which he again urges Democrats to get off the sidelines this November.

Rolling Stone released Tuesday a lengthy Q&A with Obama in which he laments a "glass-half-empty" view he sees ingrained among fellow Democrats.

"That self-critical element of the progressive mind is probably a healthy thing, but it can also be debilitating," he said. "When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them: 'Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.'"

Defending his record as president, he said he's ended one of two wars he inherited, passed "historic" health care and regulatory reform, plus "a huge number of legislative victories that people don't even notice."

"I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we've probably accomplished 70% of the things that we said we were going to do," he continued. "And by the way, I've got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum. So I think that it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we've accomplished."

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have adopted this decidedly more urgent tone in speaking to past supporters as the election day nears – and, in fact, early voting is under way already in some states. Biden just Monday was more blunt, saying Democrats should urge supporters to "stop whining" and consider what Republicans would do if they posted major gains in November.

A new Gallup poll released Monday showed Republicans still have a steep advantage in the so-called "enthusiasm gap." Forty-eight percent of Republicans said they were "very enthusiastic" about voting this year, while just 28% of Democrats said so. Still, the parties were tied at 46% in a generic test of congressional preference.

In the interview, Obama specifically addressed the healthcare fight as an area where liberals have expressed disappointment at the end result. He said that he could have "had a knock-down, drag-out fight" for the public option to rally his most ardent supporters, but it may have doomed the larger reform effort.

"You've got to make a set of decisions in terms of 'What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you're actually trying to govern?'" he said. "I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I'm going to go ahead and take it."

Even after the interview had concluded, Obama returned to reinforce a message to his base, perhaps feeling he hadn't sufficiently made the case earlier.

"It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election," he said. "The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible."

Obama today begins a series of campaign rallies further aimed at jump-starting his network of supporters. He'll speak at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Tuesday night, with three more rallies in the coming weeks planned in Philadelphia, Ohio and Las Vegas.

mmemoli@tribune.com

twitter.com/mikememoli

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