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Obama and the wary left

Despite policy pullbacks and some appointments, most liberals are happy.

(Page 2 of 2)

In Washington recently, two of Obama’s top advisers addressed a convention of community organizers, saying they welcomed input on issues from the grass roots.

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“We can count on you to advise us,” said Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Obama confidante who will advise him from the White House. “You know better than anybody else what your community needs in order to improve your neighborhood.”

Though liberal bloggers gave a thumbs down to some of Obama’s top appointments, Ms. Jarrett was not one of them. In fact, the liberal In These Times magazine floated her name back in September as a potential secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Liberal bloggers may have been decisive in the quashing of the nomination of a potential Central Intelligence Agency director, John Brennan, an adviser to Obama on intelligence matters. Mr. Brennan wrote a letter to Obama on Nov. 25 withdrawing his name from consideration, but only after the liberal blogosphere lit up with concern over the fact that he had worked at the CIA during a period when coercive interrogation techniques were being used.

Still, liberal outrage last month over Senate Democrats’ decision to allow Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent Democrat, to keep his committee chairmanships – despite his unstinting opposition to Obama during the presidential campaign – has blown over with nary a trace. Obama’s team has discovered that a certain amount of venting on the Web can be harmless. When Obama decided last June to support a controversial surveillance law opposed by the Democratic base, the liberal blogosphere caught fire – but Obama ultimately kept its support.

In all likelihood, Obama’s dance with his liberal base has only just begun. Since the Democrats failed to win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the new president will need to woo Republicans to pass controversial legislation. That could alter the details of some initiatives.

“I think you’re going to see a heavy push to incorporate Republican views and Republican votes out of the box, because he doesn’t want to be in a position of trying to shove legislation down the Republicans’ throats,” says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “There will be grumbling among the liberals.”

Progressive leaders expect Obama to compromise. But they do have a bottom line: “He’s got to deliver,” says Hickey. “He can’t compromise what he promised in the election too much.”

Among activists at the convention of 2,500 community organizers, though, there was hardly a discouraging word about how Obama has maneuvered so far. In fact, the mood in the hall was downright euphoric. After all, he used to be one of them. The idea of Obama repositioning himself somewhat toward the center didn’t faze Marion Ervin of Syracuse, N.Y., an activist on health, youth, and education issues.

“The only place to be is in the center,” said Mr. Ervin. “He’s being smart.”

Wonda Williams of Pittsburgh was aglow with good feeling toward the new Obama team.

“They all have good views and issues,” said Ms. Williams, who works with homeless women and children. “I’m just getting ready for there to be a change. Wow.”