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The Obama "Grassroots" Myth Exposed

At TechPresident.com, Micah Sifry explores the vast contrast between the carefully crafted "hope and change" media image of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, and the stunningly different actual goals and strategies employed by the high-level members of Obama's inner circle of advisers and campaign officials.

A sample:

The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn't happen, in the first year of Obama's administration. The people who voted for him weren't organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests--banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex--sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting.

The scathing continues throughout this lengthy piece, and is centered around two facets of the Obama campaign that were apparent very early on to those of us who were actually paying attention -- first, the Obama campaign's crucial early donations, the money that got the campaign off the ground and paid for its initial development, was mostly raised in the form of large donations tied directly to powerful individuals and special interests; and second, the supposedly indispensable "grassroots" aspect of the Obama campaign was really seen by top campaign officials as nothing more than a gigantic list-building effort.

In other words, Obama's presidential campaign was really nothing more than traditional top-down, special interest-driven politics as usual, controlled by a small group of power brokers, yet disguised as a grassroots movement. The power of a grassroots image was recognized and exploited early-on by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe as a strategy for contrasting the relatively unknown Obama to his experienced Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Plouffe's portrayal of Hillary (and later on, John McCain) as DC power brokers controlled by special interests, as opposed to the hopey-changey everyman Obama, surely ranks as one of the most brilliant campaign strategies in recent memory.

Unfortunately, once they moved into the White House, Team Obama and its amateur leader did not suffer setbacks very well. As their true colors began to emerge through their frequent and continued use of old school Chicago-style power and intimidation tactics, more and more people have begun to take note of the deep ties between the Obama Administration and Wall Street, and the general level of incompetence exhibited by Administration officials.

Eventually, there comes a time when most everyone recognizes that the emperor is naked. Or in the case of Barack Obama, clothed in Astroturf and special interest money, and very little else.

ADDED 01-04-10: Micah Sifry just published a response to this piece, in which he outlines his vision of what an appropriate response from Team Obama to its grassroots organizations should have looked like, after 2008 election:

The problem, I think, is that Obama didn't really believe in having an outside strategy, or at least not one that he completely controlled. During the campaign he did everything he could to bottle up anyone who might offer an outside strategy--which made a certain sense in presidential campaign terms (527s and independent expenditure groups often end up wasting resources and working at odds with a campaign's priorities) ...

How could they have addressed the problem of local OFA groups wanting to go their own way, without embarrassing the White House if their demands strayed from the message emanating from the Oval Office? They could have given those local groups a choice (rather than an edict): "If you want funding and staff support from the DNC, accept policy direction from us. If you want to organize on your own, you're on your own." That would have led to a situation where some volunteers would have chosen to affiliate with the DNC (and heck, doesn't the Democratic party want more local chapters--obviously that question is complicated by local politics), and some would have said, we'd rather be independent.

... Instead, right now you have David Plouffe, Mitch Stewart, Jeremy Bird, Natalie Foster et al--people I respect for their hard work--trying to command and control a volunteer movement. That can only work if the base is really motivated, and it obviously isn't working very well now.

I think the Republicans will encounter similar problems if they attempt to integrate Tea Party organizations into their 2010 campaign strategy, and then control the Tea Party groups in a top-down command fashion. Republicans, are you paying attention?


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Comments (12)

Yep, I'm still waiting on t... (Below threshold)

Yep, I'm still waiting on that tax cut 95% of Americans were promised.

"Plouffe's portrayal of ... (Below threshold)

"Plouffe's portrayal of Hillary (and later on, John McCain) as DC power brokers controlled by special interests, as opposed to the hopey-changey everyman Obama, surely ranks as one of the most brilliant campaign strategies in recent memory"

Yes, he certainly is a super Chicago street hustler. What that has to do with being Presidential material is a mystery for the age's..

Not only that but Obama's r... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Not only that but Obama's refusal to apply basic credit card accountability rules for online donations meant that we will never know how many of those donations came from overseas.

There's no special interest quite like a foreign nation paying for a favorable government here. Don't think that Obama doesn't know it too. What else explains the perpetual apology tour and his willingness to sell off our sovereignty?

The tipping point is going ... (Below threshold)

The tipping point is going to come when the MSM stops providing cover for him and instead starts doing REAL reporting on what his actions and goals really are.

I'm not holding my breath.

The MSM is failing. Their ... (Below threshold)
jim m:

The MSM is failing. Their business model no longer works in the internet age. The WaPo loses over a dollar for every paper it prints. The NYT loses $.54 for every paper it prints. These guys need a federal bailout and Obama intends to give it to them.

Not only are the MSM ideologically aligned with Obama's socialist agenda, they are personally and financially dependent on him. If he doesn't bail them out they are ALL hitting the unemployment lines. The last thing they will do is turn on him and threaten the life line that he represents for their careers.

"...we will never know how ... (Below threshold)

"...we will never know how many of those donations came from overseas."

And you note that NO ONE is looking either. Should be rather easy to determine, just look at the dollar amounts of the contributions. ANYTHING entered with change obviously represents a currency exchange rate. People in this country donate in even amounts $25, $50, $100, $1000. Not $23.88, $47.81, $51.28 etc.

This is news? maybe only to... (Below threshold)

This is news? maybe only to those duped into voting for him.

Yeah Fat cats on Wall Stree... (Below threshold)

Yeah Fat cats on Wall Street!!
We need to stop all bonus

Some may hope that his ties to Wall Street might make him more centrist, the reality is many top Wall Street leaders are very liberal. They will look contrite in public but will help BHO out as much as they can.
Is white guilt? Or greed? or Socialist intellectualism that they know what best for the rest of the population.

One of the sad facts about Tarp is the repayments. Treasury get to keep all the money and spends it as it see fit. When the companies were paying their employees compensation by paying Bonuses 38% went to the federal government in taxable revenue, 13% to FICA and upto 20% to NYC, NY and or NJ, CT. By moving those bonus to stock you deprive all those government of revenue. Which makes them more dependent on Federal Government.

Moreover because NY,NJ and CT only get back about 45 cents on every dollar for they send to Fed well all those other states will feel the crunch in their subsides from Federal Government. Which means worse outlook for next year.

Anyone notice that BHO does not like the current Governors of NY.

Not to mention that by selling company stock that does not mature for 5 years actually allows the Wall Street Firms to hoard the money.

Which is really greed. If you think of the Dragon which was symbol of greed was in the middle ages he hoarded the money and never spent any of it. Taking currency out of circulation which does not benefit anyone except the company and Federal Government.

It was under Clinton that it was deiced that their needs to be small number of large Banks instead of having so many regional banks. This was the beginning of too big to fail. which leads to government control for the good of the people.

BHO and his friends are pulling the strings all for the Little Guy.
They want to ensure the little guy has not cash because then he maybe independent and they need him dependent on government.

I've often wondered why the... (Below threshold)

I've often wondered why the GOP has been silent on the undocumented credit card issue. I would think that ALL American's would be concerned if foreign money is being used in US political campaigns. Even if it isn't foreign, it would seem that this would be a loophole for influential wealthy types to give more than is legally permissable via volunteer donors via gift cards.

So warnings were out about ... (Below threshold)

So warnings were out about this guy the MSM foisted Mccain and Obama on us.
52% brought it hook line and sinker.

Garand Fan,Those o... (Below threshold)

Garand Fan,

Those odd amounts will be on the donor's statements, not Obama's if the site billed in dollars. Foreigners would type in whole numbers, and the exchange rate would be applied to their statement plus a conversion charge in many cases.

<a href="http://www.youtube... (Below threshold)






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