Gag me with a pitchfork!...
Obama plans huge pledge drive for his policies
Friday, March 20, 2009
President Obama's appearance on "The Tonight Show" - the first ever for a sitting chief executive - was only a small part of the president's so-called permanent campaign. A bigger move comes Saturday, when Obama will ask 13 million people on his campaign e-mail list to go door-to-door to raise support for his agenda.
The Pledge Project Canvass is an unprecedented effort by a president to reach beyond Congress and tap grassroots supporters for help. Volunteers recruited online by Obama's Organizing for America, a post-election group, will ask citizens to sign a pledge in support of the president's policies on energy, health care and education.
Those who pledge will be asked for their e-mail addresses so the Obama-ites can keep in touch.
"This is just the beginning for us," said Jeremy Bird, deputy national director of Organizing for America, in an online video to Obama supporters this week. "The establishment in Washington won't welcome this new direction easily. We can't let this plan be debated solely behind closed doors in Washington, D.C."
Technology and political analysts marvel at the potential of Obama's attempt to transfer his successful campaign techniques - a melding of street-level community organizing and new media tools - to advance his policy agenda.
"What Obama is doing is a very new approach," said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.
That approach began during the campaign, when Obama tapped into an array of social networking tools on sites such as Facebook and Twitter to rally voters and raise funds. This weekend's effort is the next logical step, Bird said in an interview.
"This is taking that online social networking and moving it to offline social networking," he said.
But beneath the excitement over the White House's virtual populism is the question: What effect will it have? What's the difference between Saturday's door-knocking and petition-signing effort, however digitally organized, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's use of radio to rally the country around his New Deal proposals?
Also, the outreach effort could have a boomerang effect. If the same individuals who joined Obama's army of supporters feel he has overly compromised on some issues, such as health care, they could use those same networks to lash back at him.
"It could be like Frankenstein's monster coming back at him," said Mike Franc, a former staff member for Capitol Hill Republicans who is a congressional liaison for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
The most immediate concern for the administration is making sure the outreach doesn't look to Congress like a postcard-writing campaign by "the usual suspects," Franc said. "If it creates a cross-section of support in a district, then a politician will start looking into his political soul and wondering if he should start supporting Obama."
The challenge will be to reignite the passion that propelled Obama's presidential campaign - but on specific issues.
"The idea of volunteering to help pass a health care plan or help pass a budget is something fewer people have had experience with," said Justin Ruben, executive director of the online liberal organizing site MoveOn.org.
Indeed, Saturday will mark "the first big test of Organizing for America and whether the base that they built during the campaign is still there," said Micah Sifry, editor of TechPresident.com, an online hub for the study of how technology affects politics. "I think there are reasons to believe that it's ebbed quite a bit since the election."
For example, Sifry said, house parties organized last month were sparsely attended in some cases. And the YouTube videos announcing this weekend's pledge drive were receiving less traffic than past Obama videos have.
That could be because Obama is not pitching the pledge drive, Sifry said. (Organizing for America's Mitch Stewart and Bird are the video's stars.) Or it's possible that in the months since the election, Obama's social network has been a little turned off by frequent fundraising appeals and a lack of real opportunity to influence Obama's agenda.
3,500 house parties
But where some saw sparseness in last month's events, Bird said he saw an "unbelievably phenomenal" response: about 3,500 house parties across the nation and 80,000 personal stories uploaded by citizens to the Organizing for America site - with no paid staff or organizers.
In the past, Bird said, "nothing like that would ever happen without a massive number of staff, organizers making countless phone calls. Particularly around something that's not necessarily that sexy when you just see it on face value."
David All, who heads a conservative Web 2.0 agency, said it's almost irrelevant whether this weekend's push results in a horde of canvassers and calls to Congress. Obama's team has taken the long view, he said, and is more focused on continuing to build its social network than on scoring splashy successes.
"It's already succeeded," he said. "Even if they had 100 (participants), that is 100 more than what would have happened without it."
It's a lesson, he said, the conservative opposition has yet to fully grasp. Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele now posts to YouTube, and GOP.com is scheduled for an overhaul. But Obama, he said, remains far ahead in his ability to repeatedly tap the grass roots and maintain what Jimmy Carter adviser Patrick Caddell dubbed the permanent campaign.
"Republicans are still sitting around saying, 'What happened?' " Steele said. "If I were a 2012 candidate, you'd better believe I'd be out there today working against this thing."
Other presidents with direct appeals
Previous U.S. presidents who sought citizen support for domestic agendas:
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Shortly after taking office in 1933, Roosevelt began to broadcast a series of "fireside chats" to rally Americans about his New Deal package of legislation. Congress passed 15 of Roosevelt's major bills in his first 100 days in office.
Ronald Reagan: The former actor was comfortable on camera and used television addresses in his first months in office to connect with viewers - most successfully when he asked voters to write their legislators and urge them to repeal taxes. Measures to do that were passed.
Bill Clinton: Clinton traveled the country in 1993 to push for health care reform. But he, Hillary Rodham Clinton and their surrogates often were met by well-organized opponents. Their package never got a congressional floor vote. Wrote Hillary Clinton in her 2003 memoir: "We soon learned that nothing was off limits in this war and that the other side was far better armed with the tools of political battle: money, media and organization."
George W. Bush: In early 2005, Bush used the "political capital" he asserted he had received from his 2004 re-election to promote a revamping of the Social Security system. He crisscrossed the country to drum up support for his proposal, but after GOP defections, it never even got a vote in Congress.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Barack Obama and The Altar of Greed
It is no exaggeration to say that this vibrant and well-liked president, who carries the hopes and aspirations of a nation on his shoulders with a robust foundation of good will to match, is potentially giving away everything in order to make sure that a band of corporate pirates keep their stolen taxpayer money. And doing that, ladies and gentlemen, is as dumb as... Well, you know...a bag of hammers.
Paul Krugman: Obama bank plan a total "fantasy."