Mythbusting the Obama Magic

"The problem for Obama and the Democrats today: they swallowed too much of the wrong half of the myth."

The following excerpts from a TechPresident blog post by Micah L. Sifry I found very interesting reading.  The title alone is enough of a hook: The Obama Disconnect: What Happens When Myth Meets Reality.

I found it provided a reasoned road map for the fog of my own mental wandering when pondering the fact that, almost out of the starting gate, the Obama Administration has failed to cultivate any significant percentage of that digital alchemy the campaign managed to conjure.  That failure alone deserves a book; this blog post provides a jumpstart on such a book, in my opinion.

Micah writes:

The problem for Obama and the Democrats today, as they head into 2010, is that much of their activist base appears to have swallowed too much of the wrong half of the myth: they thought that Obama would be more of a change-agent, and never really embraced their own role.

That paragraph sets up the entire question.  Here are other excerpts:

But the question raised by Plouffe’s book is, given the grassroots base he helped develop in support of Obama and how powerful it became by the fall of 2008 (raising $150 million in the month of September alone, including more than $10 million the night of Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech), why he didn’t do more to keep that muscular organization going into Obama’s presidency? To put it another way, why did Plouffe discount his own grassroots strategy in favor of the dusty old playbook used by White House insiders for decades? Why wasn’t more done to extend that sense of ownership meaningfully into the life of the Administration? If you could trust your volunteers to carry the campaign in all sorts of important ways, why not also give them a real say in how they could shake up Washington?

The answer, ultimately, is that Plouffe and the rest of Obama’s leadership team, wasn’t really interested in grassroots empowerment. Instead, they think they’ve invented a 21st century version of list-building, and to some degree they’re right. (It’s for that reason that I think of the Obama campaign as the first 21st century top-down campaign, while McCain’s was the last 20th century top-down version). For Plouffe, the gigantic Obama email list, its millions of donors and its vibrant online social network were essentially a new kind of top-down broadcast system, one even better than the old TV-dominated system.


When it came to planning for being in government, it turns out that Plouffe, along with David Axelrod, was a chief advocate for bringing in then Rep. Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff. He writes, using a baseball analogy: “Rahm was a five-tool political player: a strategist with deep policy expertise, considerable experience in both the legislative and executive branches, and a demeanor best described as relentless.” (p. 372) Note that nowhere in that vital skill-set is any sense of how to work with the largest volunteer base any presidential campaign has developed in history. Rahm Emanuel came up in politics the old-fashioned way; organizing and empowering ordinary people are the least of his skills.

About brock

Brock is currently the Executive Editor at Atlantic Media Strategies and former Chief Washington Correspondent for MSNBC; he is the founder/creator/editor of CyberWire Dispatch, the Net's pioneering online journalistic news service. Previously he was the Director of Communications for the Center for Democracy & Technology, a non-profit, Washington, D.C.-based public interest group working to keep the Internet open, innovative and free. The views expressed here are his alone and do not reflect the opinions, attitudes or policy positions of his employer(s) past or present.