I’ve spent the past couple of days in Austin at the Netroots Nation conference. It’s very hot here, but not humid, and I’ll take wandering around an air-conditioned conference center any day over lugging a laptop bag between meetings in Manhattan.
Let me caveat the following in a couple of ways: firstly, I see my function as an analyst rather than a reporter. Secondly, I am a participant in the conference as well as an observer. Thirdly, my observations are based on a limited sample size — a series of friendly conversations I’ve had here, as well as a couple that I had in New York.
But here’s the sense that I’ve gotten on the ground. There are very few displays of anger at Obama over things like his affirmative vote in FISA. The people here in Austin are mature and seasoned political aficionados — there are plenty of folks in their 20s and 30s here, but just as many in their 50s and 60s. They come from a wide diversity of backgrounds, and bring with them a fairly wide diversity of viewpoints running from the center to the left. They understand electoral politics, and they understand why Obama has positioned himself on these issues as he has.
If the good news for Obama is that people aren’t talking much about FISA, the potentially bad news for him is that people aren’t talking much about Obama, period. The focus is more on long-term organization and party-building, House and Senate races, and governance if and when Obama takes office. The Obama campaign itself also does not have much presence here.
So there is a certain amount of … I don’t know quite how to put it. There is a certain amount of arm’s-lengthedness, aloofness, toward the Democratic nominee. Of the 2500 or so attendees here, Obama can probably count on about 2475 votes, and for significant fractions to donate, knock on doors, and volunteer for the campaign. But the enthusiasm toward Obama is a bit more cerebral than you might expect.
Some of this is an inevitable consequence of the long- and drawn-out primary campaign. I don’t mean that you have a bunch of bitter ex-Hillary supporters here; there are plenty of Hillary supporters here, and they’ve (mostly) gotten over it. But the primary process was exhausting — an 18-month campaign that concluded barely a month ago. People are taking a bit of a breather before the conventions begin and the campaign really gets underway.
At the same time, the complaints I’ve heard about Obama are not about policy so much as presentation. I think people want to see and hear a little more of him, for him to let down his guard a little bit. There is some danger to the Obama campaign in being a bit overscheduled: Iraq Trip, Europe Trip, VP Pick, Convention, Debates, Election, FIN. Sometimes you have to take a little time out with your friends — and I don’t just mean progressives, but all American voters.