By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 9/28/2010 3:40:20 PM ET 2010-09-28T19:40:20

President Barack Obama’s lecture to his supporters to snap out of their lethargy is getting a frosty reception from some on the left side of the Democratic coalition.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Obama made a point to argue — “with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger” according to the magazine — that his followers in 2008 must not stay home this year.

“It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election,” Obama said.

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Whatever complaints they might have about climate change or other issues, Obama said, it is “just irresponsible” that some Democrats and progressives were lacking enthusiasm for the election.

“If people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place,” he said. “If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.”

“I think it is a remarkably condescending message,” said Darcy Burner, the executive director of and the Progressive Congress Action Fund.

Progressives, she said, continue to be deeply involved in policy and in politics and are not at all lethargic or disengaged.

“The fact that they are frustrated and discouraged has as much to do with the rhetoric coming out of the White House as anything else,” she said. “And this is the latest example of that.”

“Here we have a president who over and over again said that a public option was going to be a key part of the health care plan — who then, it turns out, cut a deal to get rid of the public option. And he’s upset at the base that worked so hard to try to get a meaningful health care bill,” she said.

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"The least he could do is acknowledge that progressives have legitimate concerns. Instead he’s condescending. It’s not helpful.”

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Burner said her group and other progressives are focused on helping candidates such as Ann McLane Kuster in New Hampshire, Rep. John Hall in New York, Rep. Alan Grayson in Florida, and Rep. Phil Hare in Illinois.

“Progressives who are politically active are engaged in the midterms,” Burner said, “The concern about turnout isn’t that actively engaged political types won’t vote; the concern is that all of the people who got excited by the promise of change in the 2008 election, who voted for the first time or who’d voted rarely, aren’t going to show up because they feel let down.”

She pointed to Gallup Poll data showing that, by a two-to-one margin, the people who don’t like the health care bill said it didn’t go far enough.

“His contention — that the problem is that the people who believed in him are whiners — is not productive,” she said. “If he wants folks to be excited, he should do something to get them excited — or he should at least stop kicking them while they’re down.”

Jim Dean, head of Democracy for America,  a progressive group that has dispatched field workers to help several Democratic candidates, said of Obama’s remarks: “I’m not sure who’s being addressed here because I find that progressives — although frustrated — are working on campaigns. I know there’s a narrative out there about the enthusiasm gap, but especially for those who worked for Obama to get elected, I don’t think he’s addressing the right group.”
Dean said DFA’s online training sessions to do get-out-the-vote efforts had been well attended with more than 1,000 people in recent weeks taking the training.

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DFA also dispatched field organizers to help Democratic candidates such as Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia and Manan Trivedi in Pennsylvania.

“There’s nobody around here — and nobody I’ve seen — that’s taking their ball and going home,” Dean said, rebutting Obama’s remark.

Progressive blogger Jane Hamsher was harsher in her criticism of Obama. “This isn’t about GOTV,” she wrote on her blog. “It’s about setting up a narrative for who will take the blame for a disastrous election. And once again, the White House doesn’t care if they make matters worse in order to deflect responsibility from Obama….”

She said Obama was engaged in “setting up a fall guy for November. The headline should really read: Obama Distances Himself From Democratic Voters.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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    >> good evening from new york. i'm lawrence o'donnell. my first guest of the night, distinguished gentleman from delaware, vice president joe biden . we taped our interview earlier tonight. mr. vice president, thanks for joining us tonight.

    >> i'm happy to be with you.

    >> at the u.n. last week, president obama asked the israelis to extend the freeze on west bank construction but they allowed the freeze to expire at midnight last night. the west bank settlers today have been celebrating, some refusing to build. should netanyahu extend the freeze on the build and if he doesn't are the peace talks doomed?

    >> i don't think the peace talks are doomed. it's a politically difficult situation where both mr. abbas as well as prime minister netanyahu . the good news is the talks have not ended. you have abbas saying -- president abbas saying he would take under consideration what the next move would be. you have netanyahu saying he wants to continue the talks. george mechel is headed to the region as i speak. we still hope there will be a way to bridge this divide to keep the talks going.

    >> as we all know bob woodward has a hot "inside the white house " book. i want to go back to the first, "the promise." in that book you tell the president not to do health care in the first two years. you urged him instead to concentrate on the economy and jobs. if the president had followed your advice you were giving him at that time, what would the unemployment numbers look like now and where would the democrats be in the congressional campaign?

    >> look, lawrence , i'm not going to confirm anything i've said to the president privately. because it is that. hopefully he listens to it because i give it to him, that's why i didn't do it on the air. the president did something nobody has been able to do since teddy roosevelt , deliver a health care change, which is now beginning to roll out. one of the positive things about the health care of the president, it is going to drive down the long-term debt by $110 billion in the next five years and a trillion after that, the following 10. i think the president deserves remarkable credit for such a monumental peace of legislation.

    >> as everyone knows the economy is always the most important factor in national elections. unemployment today is running almost 50% higher than in 1994 when the democrats last lost control of both the house and the senate . is that what you meant when you said today if we make this referendum on the current state of affairs we lose?

    >> yes, because, look, people are angry. people are upset. people are like the kitchen table i grew up around. when there was a recession and unemployment, the people sitting around that table, the adults, the adults, my dad, they were afraid they were going to lose their job. they were angry. they have a right to be angry. they are focusing on us. if it's a referendum of the state of the nation we're in trouble but it's a choice. all elections are a choice. the choice between what the republicans are offering as pete sessions , congressman, a good guy, smart guy said, when asked if republicans took control of the house, what would they do, he said, we'd go back to the same exact agenda. we have to make it clear what we've done and what we're offering to do, planning to do from here and what they have done to get us in this mess and what they are offering. that is not a choice -- that's not a referendum, that's a choice. if we do that, we're going to be just fine.

    >> mr. vice president, the democrat's tax position is to allow the current tax rates , bush tax rates , to stay in place for everyone except the top brackets. if that's a winning political position, why shouldn't the democrats in the house and the senate vote on it now before the election.

    >> look, i'm not sitting in the senate any longer doing it day to day . the leader of the house and leader of the senate have made their own judgments about everything from filibusters to tactical moon ufrs the other side would take. the important thing is we accomplish what we're setting out to do, give middle class taxpayers a tax brachlt by teak. by the way, everyone would get the tax break , the same they got up to $250,000. $700 billion the republicans want to spend continuing the tax breaks for the very wealthy, $360 billion of that goes to 120,000 families that have an average income of $8.3 million. they are good people. but what are they going to do with $310,000 tax break they can't do with the $8 million they have. whereas the tax break for a family of four making $50,000 is $2100. a family of four making $100,000 is $4100. that's the difference between making your car payment, your car insurance , keeping your kid in college, being able to pay your bills. what we want to do is we want to give middle class taxpayers the money to be able to go out and do the things they need to do, generate economic growth in this economy. we want to take the $700 million and pay down the debt. and our republican friends, i find them kind of fascinating. they keep lecturing us about the debt they created, now they are talking about wanting to extend a tax cut that cost $700 million for the wealthiest among us and they keep paying for it.

    >> the republicans seem to have their own sarah palin in christine o'donnell. you're the only democrat alive that's beaten both of them in elections. what do you have to teach democrats about how to stop the palin -- no relation on o'donnell, palin-o'donnell phenomenon.

    >> take them seriously. treat them with respect. debate their ideas. don't get diverted by silly things they may or may not have said that have nothing to do with policy. what we should be doing, the democrats , is focusing on what they are offering and those who agree with them, and what they are against and compare it to what we are for and what we're against. the truth of the matter is, when we do that, we'll do just fine. but lawrence , actually, i really think that the win in delaware, and i'm sorry to see a really first rate guy lose, although he would be a much tougher candidate, i suspect, the fact of the matter is it's a wakeup call , not just for republicans but for democrats . there's a lot of democrats who might have been thinking about doing exactly what a lot of republicans did. not show up and vote in the primary. this is a wakeup call to democrats . we have to show up and we have to make our case and focus on the differences, not their personalities.

    >> you sent out a fund-raising e-mail today saying, quote, republicans running now are not your grandfather's republican party . they are from the republican tea party . now, is there a risk in an e-mail like that, that it could stimulate more tea party energy than anti- tea party energy?

    >> look, a lot of the tea party folks are just normal -- they are all normal americans. but they are americans who are just angry and fed up. others are ideologically, from associate security, wanting to privatize it and other things. the fact of the matter is, what i really said was this is not even your father's republican party . these folks don't want to talk. these folks don't want to enter into a compromise. these folks don't want to come up with practical solutions. i know what they are against. what i don't know is what they are for. why are they against us trying to stimulate jobs by giving tax cuts to the middle class ? why are they against us stimulating jobs by giving tax breaks to small businesses , which, in fact, are the ones that create the jobs? why don't they think it's important to develop alternative energy and all the jobs that would flow from those green jobs and encourage manufacturing to stay here in the united states ? why is it they don't even support the president's proposal to continue to increase our investment in infrastructure, which would be necessary if we had full employment . i know what they are against. they are against all those things. i just don't know what they are for.

    >> today you said that the base, your base in the democratic party should, quote, stop whining. i'm going to give you an opportunity you used to have in the senate , mr. vice president, would you like to revise and extend your remarks on that one?

    >> yes. what i mean, there's some on the democratic base, not the core of it, that are angry because we didn't get every single thing they want. we've got a health care bill every day becomes more apparent how much it does for people in terms of businesses and cost and availability. because there was no public option, some of them are so angry they say we're not going to participate. they should stop that. these guys, if they win the other team, they should appeal health care . i want them to tell me why what we did wasn't an incredibly significant move that's progressive and helping people. the same way with a lot of other issues. it's time to focus. this is a choice. the president has done a remarkable job given the fact that you and i and a mutual friend, pat moynihan , when you were running his show and i was his colleague, a majority in the senate used to mean 51 votes. since we've gotten elected, barack obama and joe biden , there's a new majority in the senate , 60 votes. what the president has been able to do has been truly remarkable with the help of a democratic congress. and so those who don't -- didn't get everything they wanted, it's time to just buck up here, understand that we can make things better, continue to move forward, but not yield the playing field to those folks who are against everything that we stand for in terms of the initiatives we put forward.

    >> you know, i didn't think of myself as running pat moynihan 's show, liz moynihan ran pat moynihan 's show as you can remember.

    >> that's true. if she's listening, i send her my love and also their lovely daughter -- they are a great family.

    >> vice president joe biden with us on our premier of "the last word." we'll bring you more of my exclusive interview with the vice president


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