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June 23, 2013 10:11 AM Surfing the Boos

By Ed Kilgore

When I opened up my favorite news aggregator this morning (thanks to Ryan for a respite post, allowing me to sleep all the way until 6:00 AM!), I was a bit surprised to see as the tip-top item: “Nancy Pelosi Booed, Heckled at Netroots Nation 2013,” with a link to Emily Shultheis’ story at Politico.

Well, I was there, and yeah, there was heckling and booing for a couple of minutes or so, and it grew briefly intense enough to draw my attention away from the laptop where I was writing a post while half-listening to Pelosi. But Pelosi got a standing O at the end of her speech, so it’s not like she was driven from the stage in a clutch of security guards. Slate’s Dave Weigel, who as it happens was sitting next to me in the hall, explains how it actually went down:

Pelosi tried to convince the crowd that the Democrats were working toward balance on security. This was the wrong thing to say. “It’s not a balance!” said Marc Perkel, a California blogger who’s called for Obama’s impeachment over the NSA revelations. “It’s not constitutional! No secret laws!”
“It’s so important to subject this to harsh scrutiny,” said Pelosi. “You should reject any notion that President Obama’s actions have anything to do with what President Bush was doing.”
Meanwhile, security guards were dragging Perkel away. “Leave him alone!” shouted a few activists. “No secret courts!” yelled Perkel as he moved out of the room. “No secret laws!”
It felt like a small-scale interruption; Perkel and his co-hecklers represented maybe 0.1 percent of the crowd. But Pelosi went back to the ire well, insisting that “as far as [it goes with Edward] Snowden, you may disagree with me, but he did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents. The fact is, we have to have a balance between security and privacy.”
That woke up the hecklers. Loud boos rattled around the room. “It’s a bad law!” yelled one heckler. “You suck!” yelled another.
Finally, Pelosi got a kind of bailout. An activist near the front of the room yelled about security consultants. “You’re absolutely right!” said Pelosi. “I’m with you babe, all the way! If you couldn’t hear her, the real problem, she said, is outsourcing our national security. I get criticized by this community a lot. [Former NSA director Mike] O’Connell worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, came in, worked in the federal government, exatled to the positions he was, hired consultants galore, contractors galore from Booz Allen Hamilton. And now he’s at Booz Allen again. This really is astounding.”
In a neat twist, Pelosi had turned the conversation back to the threats of the private sector, and of Bush administration outrages.

Pelosi was definitely unflappable. I observed to Weigel that speakers at noisy public events like political conventions are trained to “surf the applause,” to keep going with a rising cadence when cheers break out. Pelosi was “surfing” the boos.

More broadly, there’s no question the NSA surveillance issue represented a strong undercurrent at Netroots Nation. On Friday, a regular PA reader told me he was shocked that Edward Snowden’s name hadn’t been mentioned at any of the sessions he’d attended. Had the McClatchy story about a pervasive anti-leak program within the Obama administration (which Ryan noted this morning; see Digby’s strong reaction as well) been out there a bit longer, it would have fed the undercurrent significantly.

In private conversations at Netroots Nation, you heard different takes from different people, but in general I don’t know that the disgruntlement with Obama is any greater than it was at Netroots Nation in 2008 when progressive activists were outraged by his support for the very FISA legislation that is being cited as justification for the NSA program. That’s what five years of relentless attacks from the Right will do for a Democratic president.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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