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 My.Barackobama.com (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.”
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).
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Thus was the reason, according to former ACORN worker, Anita Moncrief, why the New York Times killed a story about the connections between the activist group and the Obama campaign.
A lawyer involved with legal action against Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) told a House Judiciary subcommittee on March 19 The New York Times had killed a story in October that would have shown a close link between ACORN, Project Vote and the Obama campaign because it would have been a “a game changer.”
Heather Heidelbaugh, who represented the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee in the lawsuit against the group, recounted for the ommittee what she had been told by a former ACORN worker who had worked in the group’s Washington, D.C. office. The former worker, Anita Moncrief, told Ms. Heidelbaugh last October, during the state committee’s litigation against ACORN, she had been a “confidential informant for several months to The New York Times reporter, Stephanie Strom.”
During her testimony, Ms. Heidelbaugh said Ms. Moncrief had told her The New York Times articles stopped when she revealed that the Obama presidential campaign had sent its maxed-out donor list to ACORN’s Washington, D.C. office.
Ms. Moncrief told Ms. Heidelbaugh the [Obama] campaign had asked her and her boss to “reach out to the maxed-out donors and solicit donations from them for Get Out the Vote efforts to be run by ACORN.”
Ms. Heidelbaugh then told the congressional panel:
“Upon learning this information and receiving the list of donors from the Obama campaign, Ms. Strom reported to Ms. Moncrief that her editors at The New York Times wanted her to kill the story because, and I quote, “it was a game changer.”’
ACORN does not exactly deny Moncrief’s allegations, but instead waives her off as a “disgruntled” employee:
“None of this wild and varied list of charges has any credibility and we’re not going to spend our time on it,” said Kevin Whelan, ACORN deputy political director in a statement issued last week.
And the NYT isn’t saying much either:
Ms. Mathis [the New York Times’ Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications] wrote, “In response to your questions to our reporter, Stephanie Strom, we do not discuss our newsgathering and won’t comment except to say that political considerations played no role in our decisions about how to cover this story or any other story about President Obama.”
Strangely, neither the Obama administration nor anyone connected with his campaign comments on the story. Of course, if the allegations regarding handing over the donor list are true, then there may campaign finance law violations to worry about, so they probably wouldn’t say much anyway.
I have to admit, this is almost a dog-bites-man story. There can’t be too many people who will seriously contend that the NYT isn’t a liberal newspaper. And it wasn’t any big secret during the run-up to the election that the MSM was in the tank for Obama. But I do wonder if many people realize the lengths that the MSM would go to in order to see their boy to the finish line. Hillary supporters got the message pretty loud and clear during the primaries, and Palin’s backers can cite chapter and verse on how the MSM dragged her and her family through the gutter. Some people might even remember that story suggesting that McCain had an affair with lobbyist Vicki L. Iseman (for which she sued the NYT and settled out of court).
Yet, how many people realize that the de facto leader of the MSM would spike a story that’s not just critical of their chosen candidate, but that implicates him in illegal activity with a notorious election law violator? Seems like that would be news fit to print. Just not in the NYT apparently.
By the way, keep this story in mind as plans continue to unfold regarding the federal government subsidizing newspapers. If the NYT was willing to spike a story just to help its chosen one, what will they do when that chosen one is paying the bills?