Protesters send a message to the president over the Keystone XL pipeline at a Santa Monica, California, fund-raiser this month.

Story highlights

Some progressives dismayed with compromises and slow pace of change in Obama years

Despite the evident frustration, there were no hints of outright anger about President Obama

"Sometimes the administration is standing in the way ... ," one Netroots participant says

San Jose, California CNN  — 

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.

From the left, Dean open to presidential run

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.