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Axelrod responds to criticism from the WH's left flank

By Martina Stewart, CNN Associate Producer
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Obama faithful growing impatient?
  • Obama senior adviser talks with CNN's State of the Union
  • More done in last two years than in entire generation, Axelrod says
  • Liberals, progressives have criticized Obama on their agenda

Washington (CNN) -- With less than four months until this year's midterm Election Day, the Obama administration is defending its record in response to criticism from liberals and progressives who are increasingly saying the president has not been aggressive enough in pursuing their preferred agenda.

"My admonition would be: Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good," Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union in an effort to speak directly to the president's liberal critics. "We've achieved more in these two years -- in terms of advancing a solid progressive agenda for this country that will help working families and make this a better, more balanced economy -- than anyone has done in you know, in our generation."

As evidence of Obama's movement on liberals' preferred agenda items, Axelrod mentioned comprehensive reform to the nation's health care system that would extend coverage to more of the uninsured and improve care for those with insurance.

"We've been talking about that for a hundred years," Axelrod told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. "Barack Obama got it done," he said. "We've been talking about financial reform for a long time. We've got the deepest reform since the Great Depression."

The senior Obama aide also mentioned the administration's move to boost fuel efficiency standards and the president's desire to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military. "That policy is going to be changed," declared Axelrod.

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Axelrod continued, "And I can go through a long list of things that have languished for years and decades and generations that this president got done in the midst of a very difficult time."

While he defended the president's record to liberals, Axelrod also sought to fault Republicans for a lack of cooperation with Obama, who campaigned on the idea of changing the tone in Washington.

"Candy, here's the problem, in order to have a partnership, you have to have people who are willing to be partners," Axelrod said of Republicans on Capitol Hill. He singled out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, for espousing and pursuing a strategy of not cooperating with the White House on major issues.

Adopting what he views as the perspective of congressional Republicans, Axelrod said, "The theory is somehow if we deprive the president of bipartisan support, then we can accuse him somehow of not being bipartisan."

But Axelrod said the White House will continue to reach out to the GOP and continue to try to work with Republicans on issues where there is the potential for cooperation across the aisle.

"I think we need bipartisanship in this country but we can't order it," Axelrod told Crowley. "They need to be willing to participate and I hope voters send a message to Republicans on this score."

Axelrod also said the president's slide in approval ratings with independent voters isn't surprising given the circumstances.

The presidential adviser said that he told Obama in late 2008, as the country's dire economic situation came into greater focus, that Obama's poll numbers would not be nearly as good a year later.

"We would have had a tough election in any case in 2010. This will make that election a little tougher. So this is not a big surprise. We're going through a very difficult time in this country," Axelrod told Crowley.

Sounding what is becoming a familiar Democratic talking point on the economy, Axelrod added, "The hole that was dug was huge and it took a decade to dig it."