Free Markets, Free People

Myths And Reality: The Obama Campaign Vs. The Obama Presidency

Here’s an absolutely fascinating article by Micah Sifry in which he takes a detailed look at the myth and reality of the Obama campaign. As you might imagine the myth doesn’t live up to the reality.

What was the myth? That the campaign was a bottom-up, grassroots driven organization. Instead says Sifry, it was the 21st Century version of a top-down campaign (whereas the McCain campaign was the last version of the old 20th Century top-down campaign).

That’s not to say the campaign wasn’t managed brilliantly – the email list they built was over 13 million. However the myth they delivered was that A) the grassroots would have a seat at the table and B) they were electing a “different kind” of politician. In reality, neither of those promises has materialized. And it is that which has so disillusioned and frustrated many Obama supporters. They bought into the myth lovingly nurtured by a supportive media apparently as easily gulled as the public. For instance:

From Fast Company’s March 2009 cover story on Chris Hughes, the Facebook cofounder who led the development of Obama’s online community (or “MyBO”): -“The theme of the campaign, direct from Obama, was that the people were the organization.” -“Trusting a community can produce dramatic and unexpected results.”

And this:

From National Journal’s April 2009 profile of Joe Rospars, the Obama campaign’s new media director: -“It was going to be something organic. It was going to be bottom-up,” Joe Rospars said.


From Rolling Stone’s March 2008 “The Machinery of Hope” story on the Obama campaign: -“Obama didn’t just take their money,” says Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000. “He gave them seats at the table and allowed them to become players.”

All are examples of the cheerleading and water carrying that was rampant in the press at the time of the campaign. And, for the most part, they uncritically helped develop the myth and enabled the campaign to push it much further than it should ever have been able to do on its own.

However, since January 20th – day 1 of “reality” – those grassroots supporters have not seen a “new” type of politician nor have they found themselves sitting at the table. Instead, an new organization (Organizing For America or OFA) has been formed around the old 13 million strong mailing list and seems to have the dual purpose of cheerleading for the administration and raising money. However, that’s not going as well as they’d like:

The returns OFA is getting on email blasts appear to be dropping significantly, for example. “”People are frustrated because we have done our part,” one frustrated Florida Obama activist told the Politico. “We put these people in the position to make change and they’re not doing it.”

That’s reality. As Sifry points out:

In The Audacity to Win, Plouffe writes often of an “enthusiasm gap” that he saw between Obama’s supporters and the other Democratic candidates, notably Clinton. Back then, there was plenty of evidence to support Plouffe’s claim: Obama was surging on all the online social networks, his videos were being shared and viewed in huge numbers, and the buzz was everywhere. We certainly wrote about it often here on techPresident. Now, there is a new enthusiasm gap, but it’s no longer in Obama’s favor. That’s because you can’t order volunteers to do anything–you have to motivate them, and Obama’s compromises to almost every powers-that-be are tremendously demotivating.

The question is, without the same enthusiasm as he was able to generate in 2008 in which Obama managed to turn out many first time voters, independents and young voters, can he win again in 2012 if the Republicans can find a viable and attractive candidate? Or perhaps the better question is, has he alienated enough of the marginal voters who gave him a win to ensure a good Republican candidate has a real chance in 2012, given the power of incumbency and all?

I think the answer, with those caveats, is yes. Obama was indeed a transitional candidate – the first black president and the first president elected based in a myth loosely contained in his “Hope and Change” motto. The electorate has now digested and marked “first black president” off the list. It doesn’t have the power it once had. Americans have proven they can overcome race in electing someone to the highest office in the land. However, the realization that his candidacy was based in this myth and they were gulled into believing the myth certainly won’t sit well with those marginal voters I spoke about – and that enthusiasm gap could become an enthusiasm chasm by 2012 (it’s why you’re beginning to see blog posts like this on the left).

Make sure you read the whole thing. There are many more aspects of the campaign covered by Sifry. For instance, how, in fact, it was a campaign immersed in “big money” from the usual suspects (something we pointed out repeatedly here at QandO) and what that meant in reality. It is a great analysis of a brilliant campaign which has had one major failing – it hasn’t been able to transition its promises into the reality of governing. Sifry seems to wonder if that was ever the plan to begin with. Regardless, that failing is not unique to this particular campaign – few are able to do that – however the difference between the promises and the perception they created vs. the reality of this presidency are probably unique in the magnitude of that failure, the frustration it has generated and the possible electoral results that frustration will bring if it isn’t addressed successfully. I, for one, don’t see how that can again be done, even with a compliant press (something I think we’re likely to see less of in the next few years, btw).



Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

11 Responses to Myths And Reality: The Obama Campaign Vs. The Obama Presidency

  • McQ asks – “The question is, without the same enthusiasm as he was able to generate in 2008 in which Obama managed to turn out many first time voters, independents and young voters, can he win again in 2012 if the Republicans can find a viable and attractive candidate?”
    My guess is yes he can. I predict that Oprah is clearing her calender and work slate in prep for the VP slot. That will rally his base and get them engaged. It would also pull the female vote and make a new ‘historic moment’ for people to vote for. Throwing Biden out the window wouldn’t cost him anything as even the liberals know he is a joke.

  • At what point was turning off the web site credit card verification procedures  considered a “grass-roots” effort?

  • Let’s try that again. Cutting and pasting from OpenOffice is NG for this comment editor.
    McQ: Knock on wood, but I think Obama is close to a lame duck already.

    He has made mistake after mistake after mistake – including letting his grassroots following wither.

    I don’t expect Obama or his team to get much smarter in the next three years, while his challenges will only get worse. His policies, foreign and domestic, are failing. He no longer has his messiah mantle to hide behind. His followers are discouraged and some are becoming angry.

    I don’t see where Obama goes from here. I doubt he even wants to run in 2012.

  • Obama is standing in an empty echoing corridor; in front of a mirror marveling at his own oratory. I, along with what’s left of thinking America are silently observing while bearing great embarrassment, not for the child or his sycophants who would have made him king, but for our country. What have we, as a nation, done?  How could we disrespect our heritage so profoundly?  

  • Obama has inertia going for him. Don’t underestimate that.
    He also has guilt working for him “How can we NOT re-elect the first black president!”
    The media covering him helps as well.
    These will be much less than advantageous than in 2008, but may be enough to put him over the top. If the timing of the economy works well for him, that also can help big time.
    Switching to Oprah as VP in 2012 means he loses. I think we have all had enough on the job training.
    The GOP candidate probably is the biggest factor: See Kerry in 2004 election. People really, really wanted to vote Bush out, Iraq was a mess. But Kerry was so horrible that even hardened Dem partisans couldn’t stomach him.
    I am thinking Palin maybe the GOP Kerry in this regard. (I cannot personally figure this one out, it nothing against Palin.) I am sure Romney could be a Kerry too, unless he did something smart like disown his failed healthcare policy “I learned from experience this doesn’t work.” Its hard to read the tea leaves.

  • McQ – if the Republicans can find a viable and attractive candidate…

    “If”, brother, “if”!  My bet is that the GOP nominee in ’12 will be another tired, boring party warhorse with a new coat of cheap paint.  MiniTru will, of course, play a key role in choosing this candidate.  I’m thinking Graham at this point.  He’s Maverick v2.0, after all, a “moderate” who can “reach across party lines” and has shown his “independence” (feel free to add any other cliches and buzz phrases; we all know them pretty well by now).  To add some historical spice, maybe he can choose one of the Maine Gals to be his running mate.

    As for Imeme, that arrogant, inexperienced fool should never have gotten as far as he did.  His success is due to a handsome face, a great speaking voice, and relentless propping up by the liberal establishment that includes MiniTru.  While MiniTru may not be as excited about him in ’12 as they were in ’08, they’ll do what they have to do to nudge him over the finish line.

    HarunSwitching to Oprah as VP in 2012 means he loses. I think we have all had enough on the job training.

    I don’t agree.  At risk of sounding like the sexist pig that I am, there are millions of American women who seem to think that The Oprah just about walks on water.  The woman who’s been listening to their problems and telling them what to read and think for years doesn’t need no stinkin’ OJT.  And, let’s face it: she’s smart.  She’s built her talkshow into a huge financial success.  Unlike Imeme, she actually HAS executive experience.  She’s done something in her life other than just show up, read a teleprompter, and vote “present”.  Especially among braindead lefties, she could be a formidable candidate.  Add in the “historical” cachet of electing the first black female vice president, and you’d have a MiniTru orgy that would dwarf what we saw in ’08.

  • The Obama presidency reminds me of a Star Trek (Classic) episode where the Enterprise is getting hammered and they can figure out who’s attacking them.

    Spock:  The thing that confused me was the power utilization curve. It made them seem more powerful than a starship or anything known to us.  That ship was constructed for a suicide mission. Since they never intended to return to their home base, they could use 100% power on their attacks.

    Obama’s re-election is secondary to the advancement of his agenda.  In one year the alienation has been pretty high.  He won’t stop now.  Everyone is hoping a dose of Clinton pragmatism will somehow set in.  It won’t happen.
    What we see is a mismatch of the practical speed at which Obama can move vs. the impatience of his base.  Given enough time, he would give his base everything they wanted.

  • I know it’s trivial (but I revel in triviality) but I am wondering how the acronym OFA is pronounced. Is it ‘ofay’ (long O, long A), perchance? Is the A silent?

  • Obama’s re-election is secondary to the advancement of his agenda.
    Robert Gibbs has already said that Obama is content to be a one-term president if that’s what it takes to get his agenda through.
    Judging by Obama’s testy handling of the Christmas bomber, I get the impression he’s not enjoying the job as much as he thought. His magic has worn off and the rest of his term looks like a long hard slog through very difficult problems with little applause and much criticism. I don’t think that’s Obama’s style.
    The danger now — in addition to Obama’s bungling international crises — is that Obama can go kamikaze to get his agenda through since he’s not worried about re-election. It’s also possible he could have breakdown in response to the pressure and his inability to do the job well.
    This is going to be quite a ride for us citizens.

  • Obama will not be a one-term president by choice. His party will force him to run. He might sabotage himself somehow though. If he does not run, then Palin has an excellent response to the “quitter” meme that she brought on herself.

  • Harun: LBJ was a one-term president by choice and his party did nothing to force him to run in 1968. LBJ was a far more competent and durable politician too. But he got caught between an unpopular war and expensive entitlement programs.

    I suspect that by 2012  Obama’s brand will be so damaged and Obama himself will be so weary that this will be a no-brainer. It’s even possible that before his term is up Obama will resign for “health reasons.”