Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic firebrand, stood behind a podium at the San Jose Convention Center and neatly summed up the current zeitgeist of the left.
"Is the president perfect?" Dean asked a buzzing audience of left-leaning bloggers, political activists and organizers on Thursday evening. "No. But it sure is better than having Bain Capital, I mean Mitt Romney, in there."
Dean's growling joke crystallized the prevailing liberal sentiment about President Barack Obama as the curtain rose on Netroots Nation, the annual progressive conference started in 2006 by the creators of the Daily Kos, a popular left-leaning blog and founding member of an online grass-roots movement that eventually helped lift Obama into the White House.
Obama the senator made a pilgrimage to the 2007 conference, then called Yearly Kos, and charmed the assembled bloggers as he mounted what seemed an impossible primary campaign against Hillary Clinton.
In 2013, Obama the president sent a YouTube video. He wasn't exactly missed.
On a host of issues from National Security Agency surveillance to Wall Street reform to foreclosure assistance to the Keystone XL pipeline debate, the more than 2,000 activists in San Jose for the eighth Netroots Nation expressed dismay about the compromises and slow pace of progress that have so far marked Obama's tenure in the White House.
"If George Bush was in there, I'd more frustrated," said Tony Alexander, political director for a local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. "But we have Barack Obama, so it's a little less frustrating."
But frustrating nonetheless.
To many here, the hard-won battles of the 2012 campaign have not yielded much at all.
"We are in the middle of foreclosure crisis, and we haven't seen any real action on principal reduction, and we haven't seen any of the banks get prosecuted for some of things that were supposedly under investigation," said Liz Butler, a fellow at the Movement Strategy Center, a social justice organization. "A lot of us have concerns within the progressive, social justice and environmental movement about the lack of action on a whole set of issues."
Scott Paul, a self-described "labor Democrat" and president of the nonpartisan Alliance for American Manufacturing, pointed to Obama's promise at the Democratic National Convention to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of his second term.
"The first five months are in, and there is virtually no job creation, so they are already way behind on manufacturing," said Paul, who was enticing conference-goers to his display in the Netroots Nation exhibition hall with classic arcade games such as Galaga and Pac-Man. "How much of it was rhetorical? A lot of it was, clearly."
Across the hall from Paul's display, staffers from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a 1 million-member advocacy group founded by two former MoveOn.org organizers, was doing a brisk business handing out blue-and-white bumper stickers declaring, "I'm from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party."
Warren, the senator from Massachusetts who endeared herself to the left by pushing for student loan reform and greater Wall Street regulation, long ago surpassed Obama as a darling of the left, said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
The president's attempt to pass sweeping gun control legislation after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School offered a glimmer of hope for liberals, Green said, but that soon faded.
"The American people want to believe in something, someone, and there are moments like the gun debate when the president did what progressives wanted all along, which is propose the boldest possible bill and barnstorm the country fighting for it," he said.
"But on things like foreclosures, and even jobs, there is the absence of a policy. On some things he is just wrong, and on other things he is just absent. Why isn't he giving a speech on jobs every single week? Why isn't he owning that issue? He is almost treating his presidency like he is treading water. There are people who want to rally behind his leadership if he is willing to lead, but he is not."
Obama recorded a video message for the conference that ran during the opening night of speeches on Thursday. It was sandwiched between the address by Dean and another by Sandra Fluke, the attorney and women's rights activist who became a Democratic celebrity during the 2012 presidential race when radio talker Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" for advocating for greater access to contraceptives.
"We won't always agree on everything, and I know you'll tell me when we don't, but if we work together, I am confident we will keep moving this country forward," Obama said in the video, which was met by tepid applause though it highlighted accomplishments such as increasing home sales and passing an extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
The president's complicated relationship with his party's activist wing is, in a certain sense, as institutional as it is ideological. Every president, liberal or conservative, has been forced to make compromises that rankled even his most loyal supporters.
But Obama's other challenge is that the political left has long had a knack for restlessness, even with one of its own occupying the Oval Office.
Until the second term of President George W. Bush exposed his party's fault lines, Republicans for decades had a prized tradition of marching in lockstep with party leadership, especially when the GOP held the White House.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is routinely disparaged -- even by its own professional class in Washington -- as less a party than a feuding and loosely affiliated federation of special interests and demographic groups: organized labor, abortion rights supporters, environmentalists, racial minorities, students and others.
"Every president has to operate within the framework of a lot of competing interests and organizations that are supporting or against him, especially Democrats," said Jann Dorothy, a Netroots attendee from Sacramento, California, who is supportive of the president. "He has to always balance the various constituencies that are out there. It's a bit like herding cats."
Dorothy said that "a lot of people here are frustrated, very upset" about the NSA surveillance and data collection programs that former contractor Edward Snowden revealed this month.