Obama's approval rating has slipped in the wake of revelations about his administration's sweeping surveillance programs, but Democrats continue to give him high marks. A CNN/ORC International poll from this week shows Obama's approval rating among Democrats at 83%, down six percentage points from last month. Among liberals the rating fell three points to 75%
But the lanyard-wearing Netroots crowd bristled at party labels. They were more likely to identify themselves with a particular cause -- opposing the Keystone pipeline, for instance, or halting forced deportations of illegal immigrants. Breakout sessions at the conference largely focused on tactical matters such as media strategy and grass-roots organizing, not passing Obama's political agenda.
"I don't think there is a terribly strong allegiance to the Democratic Party here," Dean said in an interview with CNN.
It is a demanding bunch. Everyone who came to Netroots arrived with a pet issue or two, but it was difficult on the conference's first day to find anyone who said the president had done enough to satisfy his or her demands.
The exceptions to that rule were supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, who applauded the president for backing same-sex marriage and said the administration has accomplished most of what they wanted.
Still, many questions about the president from a reporter were met with shrugs and the occasional eye roll.
The tension revealed itself in a roundtable session Thursday morning with leaders from Organizing for Action, a grass-roots advocacy group that sprang from Obama's last campaign.
The group seeks to pressure members of Congress to back the White House's agenda, largely through local media events and partnerships with sympathetic interest groups such as Planned Parenthood.
But several activists who attended the roundtable pointedly questioned the group's executive director, Jon Carson, about its mission: Is its goal just to help Obama get his agenda passed? Or does it care about other progressive issues that don't quite jell with Obama's objectives?
The topic of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil reserves from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, was repeatedly broached. Several attendees doubted Organizing for Action's sincerity on climate change given the president's punting on a decision on construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline.
"Sometimes the administration is standing in the way of the agenda we all voted for," one participant said.
Carson gamely tried to manage the situation.
"I think what I would say is, we do partnerships primarily on specific actions," he said. "That's what we are offering. We wouldn't ask anyone, 'Let's make sure 100% of our agenda lines up before we go yell at (Sen.) Kelly Ayotte before her vote on background checks.' But when we do line up our agendas on what we care about, we will find at least 80% matching."
Sara El-Amine, the group's national organizing director, said, "We can't be all things to everyone."
Despite the evident frustration, there were no hints of outright anger about Obama among the convention participants. He is still their president, and as Dean pointed out, it could be much worse.
Former Obama campaign staffers wandered the hallways sharing hugs with friends in the blogger community, and Obama T-shirts are a frequent sight on the backs of conference-goers. Booze-soaked parties are as much a part of the agenda as networking and political organizing. The 2016 presidential race and discussions about putative front-runner Hillary Clinton are only conversation topics when brought up by reporters.
The anxiety here is hard to define, but it might have something to do with the fact that liberals find themselves in the unusual position of being two-time winners on a grand scale.
For a progressive movement that started as an underdog insurgency fighting back against the powerful Bush administration, it's kind of weird to be on top for five years running. These activists crashed the gate a long time ago. Their ambitions are a bit less sweeping, more prosaic and narrowly focused.
"It's exciting to be coming together after we all performed really well as a party," said Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Emily's List, a group that supports female Democratic candidates. "We ran really good candidates; we had really good issues and we won. So I think now we all get to stand around and talk about what do we do with a win, which might not be the most natural position for everybody here."