Sean Wilentz discusses how Obama sowed the seeds of his own destruction:
The dream of the Obama presidency based on a movement model of politics was devised by Marshall Ganz, a veteran union organizer and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School, hired as an Obama campaign official and charged with training Obama volunteers—and articulated by Ganz’s ally, Peter Dreier, also an Obama adviser, a member of Progressives for Obama, and a politics professor at Occidental College. Ganz was both the theorist and practitioner of the Obama-as-movement-leader notion while Dreier played the role of publicist, heralding the new age in articles in The Huffington Post, The American Prospect, and Dissent. Ganz’s projection of the Obama presidency gained its prestige from the hallowed memories of the civil rights and farmworker union movements, imbued with high moral as well as political purposes. He posed it against the threadbare, craven horse-trading and maneuvering of parties and all previous presidential politics, which Ganz believes were “practiced to maintain, rather than change, the status quo.” The Obama experiment, a movement that arose from the grassroots apart from the Democratic Party, would usher in a purer moral and more effective leadership to the White House. Obama would not merely alter government policy but also transform the very sum and substance of the political system.
As its advocates were thrilled to point out in the aftermath of the 2008 election, their own work had ensured that Obama and his presidential campaign embodied the social movement model—and they insisted that the model was what elected him. The “real key” to Obama’s victory, Dreier wrote, was not the meltdown of the financial system in 2008, the military stalemate in Iraq, George W. Bush’s unpopularity, or even Obama’s then much celebrated charisma. The victory was owed, Dreier wrote, to “grassroots organizing.” For the first time ever, Dreier exulted, Americans had “elected a former community organizer as their President.” And just as the insurgent campaign had been transformative, so would the Obama presidency. As organizer-in-chief, President Obama would rely upon the movement that had elected him in order to reform health care, end global warming, and restore economic prosperity. Freed from the constraints of the status quo by this new political idea, the White House would be able to orchestrate through the movement and inspired through Obama’s oratory the much vaunted “change we can believe in.”
That sure sounds pretty neat, doesn’t it? So what went wrong?
Two years after touting the movement model of politics, its advocates now have found a culprit for its failure—not the Republican Party, not the filibuster, and certainly not their own notion of “post-partisan” Nirvana, but the once worshipped Barack Obama. Immediately after the midterm elections, Ganz leaped forward to charge that in office the president had lost his organizer’s fire and neglected to deliver the wonderful speeches that would frame the political discourse for the movement. Instead, Obama lamely sought reform, in Ganz’s words, “inside a system structured to resist change,” ignoring and even scorning liberal and leftist advocacy groups. He demobilized the networks generated by MyBarackObama.com that Ganz and Dreier claimed had helped win the Democratic nomination and then the White House. He became “transactional” instead of “transformational.”
Wilentz goes on to discuss why social movements make a bad governing model. But the real problem with the Obama movement is that unlike the Abolition, Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights movements, the Obama movement was formed for the purpose of advancing a politician and not a political policy.
There is a term for a political movement centered around a person rather than a goal: a cult of personality.
Most of the six regional Camp Obamas held so far have been lead by Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz. Coincidentally, Ganz began his political career 43 years earlier at a seminary right across the street from the weekend’s training. He and fellow Harvard undergraduates had driven from Boston to join Freedom Summer. Expecting to find a late night strategy session in progress when they arrived, they instead walked in on a raucous “preach off” among young civil rights activists. And so began a lifelong career in applying story telling, emotion and faith to politics.
“Where does your hope come from?” he asked the audience.
After several adequate answers, he finally got one he especially liked: “Faith.”
“Exactly. That’s why faith movements and social movements have so much to do with each other,” Ganz expanded.
But one final audience member gave him the answer that perfectly set up the rest of the weekend: “I get hope from stories. Obama’s story that he told at the convention–that gave me hope.”
“Yes! ‘To inspire’–it literally means to breathe life into each other,” Ganz replied, “And we can do that by telling our stories to each other. That’s what Barack did for us when he told his story. And that’s what we can do for others when we tell them our stories.”
The purpose of this weekend training, Ganz explained, was not only to learn skills, form teams and get organized–but much more importantly, to learn how to tell our own stories, how to “put into words why you’re called, and why we’ve been called, to change the way the world works.”
A summer camp for young adults where they sat around campfires sipping Kool-aid and chanting “Fired up! Ready to go!” and “O-bama! O-bama! O-bama!”
Okay, there were no campfires because the “camps” were held in office buildings and auditoriums, but the principle is the same. Read up on Camp Obama and you might notice a dearth of policy discussions.
It was all about the O
That “telling stories” stuff? The Christian fundamentalists call it “witnessing.”
The story telling exercises are the foundation of the model being used at Camp Obama. But they are not the end goal of the training. After a day of story telling, then came the nuts and bolts: training and exercises on how to function as an effective team, skills training for volunteer recruitment and voter contact and review and explanations of field plans for Georgia, South Carolina and the rest of the South.
The teams, which were organized by Congressional districts, were guided through a process of setting goals and making a plan to achieve them. While still at the training, thirteen different teams scheduled thirteen different volunteer recruitment meetings back in the districts–and picked up their cell phones to get 284 commitments to attend from friends and neighbors. Getting those immediate results fired everyone up and the closing ceremony, in which every participant received a certificate, was incredibly high-energy and emotional.
Have any of you been to a church camp or revival meetings? They are “high-energy and emotional” too. People at those meetings become “overcome with the Spirit” and pass out, just like they did at Obama rallies.
I think Riverdaughter is on to something about why some of us seem immune to the lure of the Kool-aid Kult. We went to fundamentalist churches when we were growing up and it inoculated us from the emotional manipulation used by the Obama campaign.
But the Camp Obama experience was only the beginning:
This handful of Camp Obama teams are supposed to be just the beginning of the Obama organization in their Congressional districts. The goal they are carrying back with them is to establish parallel teams of five to eight people to be responsible for cities and neighborhoods all the way down to the precinct level.
Its easier to see this kind of model working in relatively small states such as New Hampshire, Iowa or even South Carolina–where the model is already far more progressed–than across the vast half of the country that votes on February 5.
We know now that it worked pretty good in the caucus states where turnout was low and organization was the key to victory. I’m not saying there was any cheating involved but the Camp Obama model didn’t do nearly as well in places where they held primaries with secret ballots.
Obama won 13 out of 14 caucuses but only 18 out of 39 primaries. Of those 18, he only won 9 in the general election along with 7 of the 13 caucuses. The caucus states provided 3% of the Democratic votes but 15% of the delegates. Hillary won by a landslide in 13 of the 15 biggest primary states, losing in Illinois and winning narrowly in the Texas primary (but somehow losing the Texas caucus the same day.)
Obama gets $99 million dollars in 2007 from Wall Street, health insurance executives and oil companies. He uses that money to organize
Cult Camp Obama. He wins in the red states and caucus states but loses almost all of the big states and swing states.
So the media and the Democratic leadership drag him across the finish line and declare him the winner anyway despite the fact that Hillary got more votes.
Then once he’s in office he immediately starts dismantling the very organizations that helped him get there. and co-opts or “vertically integrates” all the left-wing activist groups within the Democratic party.
He even arranges for the Democratic party headquarters to be relocated to Chicago.
It sounds to me like he knew his followers were gonna be really disappointed and he didn’t want to leave them anywhere else to go. I guess it never occurred to him they might just stay home.