A couple of months ago I wrote about Obama as the Organizer-in-Chief, noting how he incorporated his experience as a community organizer in mobilizing millions of people all over the country into a grassroots movement to win the election.
Many have been speculating since the election about what Obama will do with this movement once he got into office and how being an organizer will affect the way he governs. On Saturday, we got some initial word on that.
The details of what this means have not been laid out yet – this is just an introduction. But the whole idea raises very interesting possibilities and challenges.
From Peter Wallsten at the LA Times:
The organization…is being designed to sustain a grass-roots network of millions that was mobilized last year to elect Obama and now is widely considered the country’s most potent political machine.
Organizers and even Republicans say the scope of this permanent campaign structure is unprecedented for a president. People familiar with the plan say Obama’s team would use the network in part to pressure lawmakers — particularly wavering Democrats — to help him pass complex legislation on the economy, healthcare and energy…
Strategists in both parties said the ideas being discussed would create an on-the-ground weapon for policy battles far more powerful than the speeches, news conferences and donor-targeting techniques traditionally used by presidents.
“No one’s ever had these kinds of resources,” said Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who led political operations under President Reagan. “This would be the greatest political organization ever put together, if it works.”
And here’s Kevin Drum from Mother Jones:
This is something that Mark Kleiman more or less predicted many months ago…His conjecture was that Obama’s organization had fundamentally redefined presidential politics thanks to its huge pool of dedicated volunteers and its ability to quickly raise unheard-of sums of money. After all, what congressman is likely to buck the boss if the boss can offer – or withhold – hundreds of thousands of dollars without batting an eye and mobilize – or withhold – hundreds of thousands of phone calls and telegrams depending on how closely you toe the presidential line? Every president has a certain amount of power he can bring to bear against holdout legislators, but Obama’s organization brings this to a whole new level.
If this turns out to be right, Congress is going to learn pretty quickly that the ballgame has changed. Should be fun to watch.
This goes to the heart of the contradictions that the Obama people successfully managed to straddle during the campaign, but are (I think) going to have increasing difficulty in dealing with going forward. The Obama people combined very tight top-down message control and campaign coordination with a fair degree of openness at the bottom to independent initiatives by volunteers. As long as everyone agreed on the same underlying goal (beating the Republicans), this worked. But as that overwhelming imperative recedes, people are going to start pursuing their own objectives – and the ‘open’ architecture that the Obama people have constructed provides them with plenty of opportunities to do this.
My thoughts are that while some progressives are worried about the lack of substantial change they’re seeing in Obama’s policies and “bi-partisan” gestures, we’re very often missing the forest for the trees. The ground is about to shift right under our feet. Obama might be building up for a bigger kind of change than we have imagined.