House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech at the America’s Future Now conference went off-script. The Washington Post did a great job telling the story of how the California lawmaker spoke for a half an hour over the garbled jeers of more than a dozen infuriated healthcare activists in orange t-shirts, many of them in wheelchairs. Pelosi wouldn’t let conference organizers or the Secret Service escort the protesters out, and both she and they continued to talk. At the same time. As a result, her shouted speech mostly came across as “blah, blah, jobs, jobs, jobs, blah, blah, prosperity.” The folks in orange were with the group ADAPT and they had a point. Cassie James, 54, told me “I’m a woman in a wheelchair and I have a child I won’t be able to raise if I’m in a nursing home.” But I don’t think their tactics will win them any fans. “Let’s take a short time out,” Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey said when this spectacle subsided.

The prolonged outburst contrasted with the otherwise patient and cordial mood at this gathering, but highlighted a strange duality. Participants seemed to alternate between warning of the dangers posed by the growing right-wing extremism overtaking the Republican Party, with of course the potential for then running the United States into the ground, and listing reasons for progressives to be optimistic about their rosy political future.

“Stop the lies. Stop the smearing. Stop the fear,” Eric Burns from Media Matters said regarding Fox News and tea party-supporting members of Congress after screening a chilling new video to illustrate his concerns about right-wing extremism (no link available for that yet, unfortunately). Blogger Digby lightened the pall hanging over the room at that point by predicting that Glenn Beck will “likely do himself in.”

Not much later, Simon Rosenberg presented a boatload of data about demographic trends among Democratic voters and the American public. Basically, the Democratic Party is winning over more women, young people, and minorities than Republicans. Eventually the old white guys voting Republican will die, and voila, there’s no way the GOP will be able to win office. OK, not exactly. “This is not a done deal. This is an opportunity,” Rosenberg said.

“If Washington realizes that it can’t demoralize its base, we can have a 40-year majority,” said former presidential candidate and DNC chair Howard Dean, adding to this cautious optimism. Activists need to take lawmakers and “hold their feet to the fire so they can act like real Democrats,” Dean said. (Or maybe he shouted that part.) “We are done with getting people into office who forget who got them there.”

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