All hands on deck

Politics, US Politics

Nancy Cohen on HuPo is appealing on Obama to release his legions of campaign-era volunteers so they can help him press the agenda of political change. They offer a tremendous opportunity, yet “President Obama, in contrast to candidate Obama, seems as uncertain as a bailed-out banker about the net value of this once-prized asset.”

God knows this week has shown he could use the help.

The challenge: mobilize their mass engagement; yet leave them to do their own thing (the time for “the inordinate degree of control the Obama campaign maintained over its message, its lists, its staff, and its volunteers,” Cohen submits, is over).

Sounds like good advice – and it even comes with a somewhat tortured yet clever aphorism: “give a man a link and he’ll click for a day, give him the lists and the code to the site, and he’ll have your back for a lifetime”. But her piece is noticeably lacking in description of how it could be done.

The challenges involved are remarkably major, Politico recounted yesterday. Surprisingly major — and there’s a telling link here with Obama’s failure to keep control over the political narrative in what, to be honest, has been a F-up of a week. (Don’t get me started – that would, or still will, be a blog post of its own.)

As Jeanne Cummings writes, “The anxiety over lost momentum seemed almost palpable this week as the president in television interviews voiced frustration with his White House’s progress and the way his recovery program was being demonized as a Democratic spending frenzy.” She explains what’s going on backstage:

The Jetsons versus the Flintstones

Obama’s campaign was lauded for its visionary use of modern tools for old-fashioned politics. Through the Internet, it recruited supporters, collected dollars, rallied supporters and organized get-out-the vote operations.

But when these modern heroes arrived at the White House, it was like the lights all went out.

Their contact with their millions-fold supporters was cut off, literally, as e-mail systems broke down and ‘The List’ of political supporters was blocked at the iron gate.

To meet government ethics rules, the campaign operation and its grass-roots army were forced to de-camp to the Democratic National Committee, robbing the president of one of his most potent political weapons just as the stimulus bill was under consideration in the House.

But while the White House team struggled to adapt, [the Republicans] could practically sleep-walk through their attack plan [..]. It required two simple steps: Scream pork, call Rush Limbaugh. They even could have used a rotary phone.

The result: Every House Republican saw a free pass and voted against the first version of the bill.

The outcome is not surprising. Obama had roughly 90 people working at his headquarters on Internet outreach and new technology projects [..]. Even with closet-size spaces, the White House can accommodate only about 200 or so people for jobs ranging from national security to health care reform to Internet guru.

The Obama team “built this incredible campaign and now they have these ridiculously primitive tools. The communication tools they mastered don’t exist in the White House. It’s like they are in a cave,” said Trippi.

How weird that the office of the US President is so underequipped for the present, digital and networked political world. Partly, however, it’s also just a question of growing pains – hopefully, at least: read Pulitzer-winning journalist David Cay Johnston’s disappointing story about the ignorance and arrogance he’s encountered so far with the White House press office.

Partly it’s a matter of money. About $65,000 has been spent on pro-stimulus ads by unions and advocacy groups in a handful of states, Cummings notes, and compares: “in the last week of the presidential campaign, Obama was spending an average of $250,000 a day on commercials in the Philadelphia market, alone.”

Nonetheless, she also chronicles the multiple times the White House stepped on its own message and seemed to work against itself. It’s been a mess.

This is definitely a wake-up call. It may not be fair that Obama is not granted the traditional “honeymoon period”, but close to a trillion dollars is at stake already right now. (When’s the last time an incoming president faced such enormous actions so soon?). With other major initiatives coming up next which the Republicans will demagogue any way they can, the White House simply needs to shape up fast.

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One Response

  1. sozobe  •  February 10, 2009 @7:00 am

    This is something I bookmarked to come back to as a possible blog post, a while ago:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012104249.html

    (More details about the surprising technological dark ages that existed at the White House when Obama showed up.)

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