Change is coming, President Barack Obama promised a crowd of party loyalists on the final day of the Democratic National Committee’s Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.
Throughout his 20-minute keynote speech, the president sought to strike a balance between inspiring the Democratic faithful — who have grown restless over the lack of progress on its key agenda items over the past year — while appealing for patience amid the challenging realities the party and country face.
The audience listened intently as Obama listed the problems his administration is trying to solve, including two wars, “a financial crisis that was something we hadn’t seen since the Great Depression,” and a growing deficit.
But the crowd packed into the Presidential Ballroom at the Capital Hilton came to its feet when he began ticking off the administration’s achievements in its first year in office — passing legislation to provide health insurance for children, also known as SCHIP; to let the FDA regulate tobacco; and to strengthen women’s hand in fighting for equal pay.
The appointment of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and his pledge to continue efforts to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military drew loud applause.
The crowded, noisy environment stood in stark contrast to the deserted streets outside, where the rest of the city was hunkered down for a history-making blizzard.
Obama thanked the crowd for attending despite the “snowmageddon here in D.C.” Not everyone, however, was able to make it — the president thanked Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) for attending, though neither was in the crowd. Honda, apparently, was “still shoveling” himself out, Obama said. He did arrive just after the president’s speech.
Several convention delegates were also snowed in.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton warmed up the crowd with an impassioned appeal for support of D.C. voting rights. DNC Chairman and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine then introduced Obama, who was welcomed with a sustained standing ovation.
The president took the opportunity to talk up bipartisanship, a central talking point coming out of the administration after the Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate special election, though not a big crowd-pleaser among the partisan audience.
In keeping with the change theme, Obama said that changing Washington required Democrats to “change the way we do things as a party” and “change the way we work with the other party, as well.”
“We need to extend our hands to the other side. We’ve been working on it,” he said, with a chuckle, which drew laughs from the audience as well.
The president also took pains to acknowledge the anger and frustration in the country, which he blamed, implicitly, for his own sinking polls. “When unemployment is still 9.7 percent people are going to be frustrated. And they’re going to be looking to the party in power to fix it.”
But he assured the crowd that that wouldn’t stop him from pursuing an agenda that he thinks will ultimately help Americans and help the country maintain its global supremacy.
“Just in case there was any confusion out there I’m not going to walk away from health care,” he declared to loud cheers. As in the State of the Union address, however, he did not lay out any parameters for how the party should advance the overhaul legislation now that it has lost its filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
“We are moving forward,” Obama promised. “Sometimes we may be moving forward against the prevailing winds, sometimes it may be against a blizzard, but we are going to live up to our responsibility to lead.”