What Might Have Been

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, one of the reasons I supported him was that I believed he could build a new progressive coalition that would remain active and push policies to the left.

But that didn’t happen. And now we’re getting a picture of why it didn’t happen. People involved in the Obama campaign in 2008 write that the usual Cool Kids strangled the progressive grassroots/new media movement that helped Obama win. What was originally supposed to be a separate organization was locked up inside the DNC, where it died.

Please do read “Obama’s Lost Army” by Micah Sifry at New Republic and “How the Cool Kids Killed Obama’s Grassroots Movement” by Kate Albright-Hanna at Civicist. Ms. Albright-Hanna’s piece is especially poignant. At the end, all of her hopes were dashed.

I ended up going to the White House Office of Health Care Reform to build a grassroots movement to pass legislation, but was sidelined while the Tea Party filled the void. (An operative on the Tea Party Express later told me that he learned how to mobilize supporters by studying the New Media approach on the Obama campaign). After getting lost inside the corridors of HHS trying to get the requisite twelve signatures it took to quit the job, a sort of Kafkaesque nightmare, I finally escaped the khaki beer pong culture blob.

Sifry writes that a lot of smart people with solid credentials were on board after the election hoping to sustain the movement. But the political culture of Washington killed it.

Obama’s army was eager to be put to work. Of the 550,000 people who responded to the survey, 86 percent said they wanted to help Obama pass legislation through grassroots support; 68 percent wanted to help elect state and local candidates who shared his vision. Most impressive of all, more than 50,000 said they personally wanted to run for elected office.

But they never got that chance. In late December, Plouffe and a small group of senior staffers finally made the call, which was endorsed by Obama. The entire campaign machine, renamed Organizing for America, would be folded into the DNC, where it would operate as a fully controlled subsidiary of the Democratic Party. …

…Obama unveiled OFA a week before his inauguration. “Volunteers, grassroots leaders, and ordinary citizens will continue to drive the organization,” he promised. But that’s not what happened. Shunted into the DNC, MyBO’s tools for self-organizing were dismantled within a year. Instead of calling on supporters to launch a voter registration drive or build a network of small donors or back state and local candidates, OFA deployed the campaign’s vast email list to hawk coffee mugs and generate thank-you notes to Democratic members of Congress who backed Obama’s initiatives. As a result, when the political going got rough, much of Obama’s once-mighty army was AWOL. When the fight over Obama’s health care plan was at its peak, OFA was able to drum up only 300,000 phone calls to Congress. After the midterm debacle in 2010, when Democrats suffered their biggest losses since the Great Depression, Obama essentially had to build a new campaign machine from scratch in time for his reelection effort in 2012.

People complained because progressives didn’t turn out for the 2010 midterms, but this tells us why. I’ve complained for years about the shabby way the Democrats treat their base. They don’t seem to want to be seen with us in public, but they perpetually ask us for money.

And, of course, the disconnect goes both ways. The Democratic Party was hopelessly out of touch with too many leftie voters, and those voters felt disconnected from the Democratic Party.  Much has been written about how the Obama Coalition failed to show up for Hillary Clinton, but the bigger picture is that the Democratic Party had allowed the Obama Coalition to dissipate back in 2009. Obama pulled out a win in 2012 mostly because Mitt Romney was such a horse’s ass and even more out of touch with America than the DNC.

I found an article yesterday at The American Conservative called “The Meaning of Trump,” and while I don’t agree with everything the author says, I think he got this exactly right:

As the surprise-laden year unfolded, more and more analysts cast their thinking toward the angers and frustrations within the electorate that were driving the country in entirely unanticipated directions. Elements of the crisis now were seen and probed. But few captured its full magnitude.

It was nothing less than a crisis of the old order, a crisis of the crumbling status quo. Its most significant manifestation was the political deadlock that gripped official Washington and rendered it incapable of political action. Many saw this as a problem in itself, but in reality it was merely a stark manifestation of the status quo crisis. As the old order of American politics began to disintegrate, the two parties clung ever more tenaciously to their familiar and time-tested positions, defaulting to an increasingly rigid groupthink stubbornness and shunning any thought of political compromise. Far from grappling with the crisis of the old order that had descended upon America and the world, the party elites couldn’t even acknowledge its existence.

And this:

As for Clinton, she not only couldn’t speak in a political idiom that showed an understanding of the underlying realities of America’s crisis politics. She actually put herself forward as a champion of the status quo and, through some unfathomable utterances, a scourge of that working-class contingent that once had been such an integral part of her party. That helped open the way for Bernie Sanders, who spoke to the realities of our time and thus resonated with large numbers of liberal Democrats deeply concerned about the plight of the working class and the growing income and wealth disparities bedeviling the country.

But Is the Democrats Learning? I guess we’ll have to see…

15 thoughts on “What Might Have Been

  1. I think the fatal mistake was the selection of Rahm Emanual as Chief of Staff. Later the selection of DWS killed it off. Obama may have wanted to avoid the chaos that Trump is experiencing with a full slate of inexperienced outsiders, but the palace coup was complete when they owned Obama’s calendar, his access, and OFA as part of the DNC. I can see how Obama made the mistake, knowing that politics in the WH is the big leagues and he wanted to staff with competent people.

    The strategic remedy would have been to staff with ideologues in key positions and then put pragmatic people like Rahm in the next level – with the direction that they should be able to speak freely w/in the administration. Alas, that they were put in top spots where they could control the flow of information to the POTUS.

  2. If I live until nextThursday, March 2nd, I’ll be 59 that day – my Mom, on that day, will turn 85.

    I’ll have some thoughts to share about this post tomorrow.
    Or, maybe not.
    I need to… well, think about things.

    I’m really tired right now…

  3. I still see OFA and the Democrats ignoring the MASSIVE grass roots movement that is springing up in Indivisible, Swing Left and other groups. It’s nuts that Dems are ignoring this.

  4. Cund(gulag)

    Best wishes for your and your mother’s birthday. You were both born on the same day? No regifting!

    I think a lot of people are a little out of sorts these days. I hope you recover your old vim and vigor.

  5. Neither political party ever embraces progressive or liberal ideas.  Political parties exploit ideas, and the GOP is now attempting to exploit some very crazy, illogical, distressing, and largely counterproductive ideas. (there are a few notable exceptions).  By in large, however, the DNC maintains a bit more tolerance for progressive or liberal ideas, and as such generally is a more attractive organization for us who find value in ideas so categorized.  Kate Albright-Hanna’s finish with the Obama quote  was quite powerful :“Change doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.” Lesson learned.

    Is it not best that progressive and liberal ideas not rely on political parties but on the strength of the idea itself.  Political parties institutionalize ideas, and as we are seeing now with the GOP.  The “conservative ideas” remain even when those ideas are counterproductive, outmoded, and/or unworkable.  The DNC does the same with ideas well past their prime.   Both articles strongly suggest this notion in my reading.  We can foster progressive ideas without either party, and need to do so.  As we are seeing now, any gain can be fleeting, ephemeral,  and need to be repeated again and again to gain real progress.  When we show we can do it without them, both parties will follow and claim it as their success

    • “We can foster progressive ideas without either party, and need to do so.” Well, no, we can’t. Or, only up to a point. Unless a significant number of politicians AGREE to push for an idea, it goes nowhere. The best ideas mean nothing if they are never enacted into actual policy. And, in the real world, that means working within party politics. Also, you are historically wrong when you say “Neither political party ever embraces progressive or liberal ideas.” That’s generally been true for the past 50 or so years, but before that we’ve gone through periods of history in which progressive ideas were *embraced* enough that they actually became policy.

  6. goatherd,
    “No regifting!”
    I’m sure back when I was a teen, she’d have gladly regifted me to some Afghani or Somalian Warlords!

    As for getting back to my old vim and vigor, I’ll be glad to just get back to being full of piss and vinegar!
    I’m on some nasty diuretics, and I think I’m at the point where I’m peeing-out water I drank as a child, in Queens, NYC!
    So, I feel like I’m full of piss, all day and night lnog – even if only a tablespoon comes out.
    Yeah, I know: TIM!

  7. This brings to mind the saying, republicans fear their base, democrats hate theirs. And maybe this is a very simple explanation as to why republicans have been more consistently successful than democrats over the years.

    Its that fear of their base that drives the GOP to do things that, although don’t in the least bit solve their pocketbook issues, it does motivate base supporters to consistently get out the vote, provide financial support and engage in a level of activism at the grass roots level that keeps them engaged with the candidates, and allows the GOP to win way more then it should.

    Democrats “hatred” of their base translates into the exact opposite outcome. Keeping progressives at arms length, triangulating them on issues and selling them out in the vein of p***ing on them and calling it rain depresses the enthusiasm of voters and sends the message to activists that to not march in lockstep with leadership is wrong and not welcome. And these are the foot soldiers you need to win races!

    Its a recipe for disaster, and it appears the dems are going down that path yet again. This approach is defined by an insular arrogance that leads to the kind of ignorant blindness causing democratic establishment leaders, for example, to really believe nominating a status quo candidate with high negatives, suspect political instincts and communication skills is the answer in a race where the electorate is clearly done with the status quo. And then think this is “speaking to their base.” One outcome of this thinking can be summed up in the 2016 campaign approach of courting republican voters and focusing messaging on winning them.

    The current democratic leadership is either too cowardly or too beholden to the moneyed donors to enthusiastically embrace what wins: progressive values. A majority of voters agree with democratic values on health care, jobs and even the environment, when they are cast the right way. The incrementalist approach of Clinton was simply not enough when voters clearly wanted more, and I’m afraid that if Tom Perez wins (and no offense personally to him, he is a nice enough guy) we’ll be back to stupid as usual.

    Thinking of what might have been is really tough, given what we have now. Especially when this was really the democrats race to lose.

  8. The Tea Party did get a lot of guys primaried (at least at first). Maybe the masses need more reminding of tipping points from revolutionary history? Or an independently wealthy already-made ‘our guy’ who can’t be bought, who makes and actually believes (sorry Trumpers) these kinds of quotes:

    “The things that will destroy America are peace at any price, prosperity at any cost, safety first instead of duty first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.” – Theodore Roosevelt

  9. Please follow Jimmy Carter.  He is erecting solar panels in Plains Georgia, population under 1000.  The man who has trust world wide.  The only Christian president that has not exploited the religion.  He understands things.  He fights cancer and much more.  He knows the power of the boot strap.

  10. But Jimmy has a touchy-feely effeminate streak, unlike John Wayne Jesus. When Jimmy starts releasing videos of crazed M-15 shoot-em-ups, then maybe we’ll follow.

  11. Didn’t Will Rogers say, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat”? I wouldn’t look to the Democrats for leadership. They, including Obama, have been following the Republicans for decades. Obama submitted Republican ideas to a Republican Congress. Fortunately, they were racist enough not to pass them, with the notable exception of Obamacare (nee Romneycare).

    We may see the break up of both major political parties, much as happened before the Civil War. But I think that it is more likely that they will muddle through and adopt ideas from outside. If we don’t go careening off into authoritarian territory where minorities are scapegoats, we could see the pendulum swinging back towards the Left. To hold onto his nascent base Trump could spawn a Labor wing of the Republican party. I wouldn’t count on it, but it is possible. If the Democrats embrace the minimum wage and unions again, they could beat the Republicans to the punch.

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