President Obama sought to bolster California supporters Thursday by arguing that his administration has achieved a number of key goals, from healthcare reform to tax cuts, while acknowledging that delivering on the promises he made in 2008 has been more difficult than he had expected.
"I said our climb would be steep, we would have a tough road ahead, we might not get there in one year, we might now even get there in one term.... Let's face it, the climb was a little steeper than we anticipated," Obama told more than 2,500 supporters at a fundraiser in a cavernous soundstage at Sony Picture Studios in Culver City.
He argued that he had inherited a dreary economy, with 4 million jobs lost before he took office, and another 4 million in the months following. But Obama insisted that the economy was coming back, one of a number of accomplishments he told the crowd that they were responsible for because of their support. The president reeled off a list of policy changes made during his tenure, including ending combat operations in Iraq, reforming education, investing in alternative energy, improving college loans and repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The crowning achievement, he said, was healthcare reform.
"Because of you, we did what folks have talked about for 100 years. We said healthcare should no longer be a privilege in this country. It should be affordable and available to every single American. We said in America, you shouldn't go broke because you got sick," Obama said. "We've got more work to do.... There are some folks who want to dismantle it. We have to protect it."
He painted his opponents in Washington, D.C., as pessimistic about the nation's capabilities, pointing to the recent budget debate. Obama said that although the federal deficit must be reduced, the effort required shared sacrifice and he would not cut in areas as vital as education.
"I will not reduce the deficit by sacrificing the things that have made America great, the things that made American possible," he said at the event, one of six fundraisers the president held over two days in California. All told, they were expected to raise several million dollars for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The trip was part of an effort by Obama to recharge a political base whose grass-roots supporters helped him win in an initially improbable run for the presidency in 2008. A segment of that base has since grown disenchanted by some of the president's actions, such as supporting increased domestic oil drilling, extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and declining to close prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay.
"I know there are times some of you felt frustrated because we haven't gotten everything we wanted to get done right away. I know, 'I don't like that he compromised with the Republicans; I don't know why that healthcare thing, why did it take so long. I don't know, you know, Obama, he's older now … he used to look so fresh and exciting. I've still got that poster but I don't know … ,'" Obama said. "Look, there are times where I've been frustrated just like you have been, but we knew this wasn't going to be easy."
That frustration was evident Thursday. Outside Sony, scores of protesters gathered at the studio gate, waving signs that read "$ for jobs & schools, not war" and "OBUSHA. We've been had," with the O replaced by the blue and red Obama campaign symbol. Earlier in the day, several attendees at a ritzy breakfast fundraiser in San Francisco interrupted Obama with a song protesting the treatment of Bradley Manning, who is imprisoned because of the WikiLeaks case.
Between the fundraisers, Obama held a town hall meeting in Reno, where he spoke about deficit reduction, eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and investigating fraud and manipulation in the oil markets. In Los Angeles, he first held an intimate dinner for big-spending donors, including philanthropist Eli Broad and Sony chiefs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, in the commissary at Sony, and after the larger Sony rally held another small fundraiser in Brentwood.
Obama spoke briefly at the commissary before visiting each table to thank his supporters.
"Let's face it, it was not likely that I was going to end up in the Oval Office. It was possible, but not likely. And so many of you took this incredible leap of faith in part because the campaign wasn't just about me," he said. "It was about how we could move the country in a new direction. And how could we recapture that sense of community that I think had frayed for too long and prevented us from dealing with so many challenges that we face."
Much work remains to be done, he said.
"There's a still a lot of folks hurting out there," he said. "We've got to put people back to work. We've got to grow the economy. We've got to reduce the deficit. We've got to pass immigration reform. We've got to have an energy plan that works for all Americans. And that's before I start talking about international affairs."
The commissary event and the late-night at event at Tavern in Brentwood attracted about 100 donors who paid as much as $35,800 for face time with the president. Attendees at the larger Sony event spent as little as $100 to enter.