Failure to Mobilize the Electorate: The Community-Organizer-in-Chief Forgot to Organize!

I specifically wanted to wait several days before writing up my own, humble analysis on last week’s midterm elections- you can already find pretty much every viewpoint from across the ideological spectrum hashed out and analyzed to death on any website that’s ever focused on our domestic politics.  But in my mind, one of the largest hurdles that prevented Democrats from escaping the great bloodbath of 2010 is not being discussed in the context of it’s impact on this election cycle- namely, the Democrats lack of organizing throughout the congressional session and recent election. Our “community organizer-in-chief” forgot to organize, with tragic results for Democrats up and down the ballot.

First, I should mention that there are obviously countless factors that contributed to such a “shellacking:” high unemployment at the top of the list, disappointment and disillusionment among first-time Obama voters, lack of progress on key legislative priorities for the traditional democratic constituency groups, as well as playing defense in nearly 50 House districts McCain won over Obama in 2008.  There is no magic “silver bullet,” in that these numerous issues all contributed to the election results last week, and had unemployment been at 7% rather than nearing 10%, things would have been dramatically different.

Also important in my eyes is the atrocious messaging, from the White House to the Congress and into the states, that contributed to an unaware public acting outside their own self-interests.

  • Why don’t Americans know that Obama passed the single largest middle-class tax cut in our history?
  • Why don’t Americans know that we’re on-track to re-gain nearly ALL the money from TARP, even making money on interest?
  • Why don’t Americans know that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the stimulus bill saved or created literally millions of jobs?
  • Hell, why did they even call it a “stimulus” bill in the first place, instead of calling it the Largest-Middle-Class Tax Cut in History that Saves Millions of Jobs and Avoids a Global Economic Meltdown bill instead?

Understandably, when all these mis-haps and outside forces meshed together they created an untenable environment for Democratic victory. But with a robust organizing program, much like Obama launched during his ground-breaking presidential campaign, I believe these losses would not have been as staggering. Sure, Organizing for America (the iteration of Obama for America during the campaign) sent out e-mails to try to engage supporters, and here and there asked members to call their representative– but from the start the organization was mishandled and forgotten, housed not independently but instead as part of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Texting those on your list three times the night before the election after nearly two years of dis-engagement does not bode well for a campaign’s success.

The stage was set during Obama’s historic campaign, when Obama himself steered donations away from outside interest groups and 527s and instead directed all the left-leaning wealthy donors to his own campaign. This may have made sense from a communications standpoint in 2008, but two years later I argue that decision unintentionally dismantled the vast infrastructure needed to effectively answer these groups on the right. Adding fuel to the fire was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which in effect opened the floodgates for shady groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS to saturate countless media markets with attack ad after attack ad, without the necessary Democratic counterweight.

After these outside groups were de-funded, many of us hoped that Organizing for America would take on the work needed to continue the momentum after the election: engage these millions of new voters and provide a rallying cry for the President’s policies.  Instead, OFA was housed in the DNC, and instead of aggressively mobilizing for progressive policies, they simply became another tool for the national party.

Imagine what OFA could have done to combat that fateful August recess of 2009, when the tea party ransacked town hall meetings across the country, and what those actions could have done to shape the debate away from “death panels” and instead toward a robust public option for all Americans.

Imagine what OFA could have done to inspire these new voters to continue and build upon the change they began in 2008 with Obama’s election.  Instead, perhaps the best organizing done pre-election was done by a group of three young people, in the course of just one night, when they launched WTFhasObamaDoneSoFar?, virally trying to mobilize a base of voters disheartened and disillusioned with the past two years.

Obama began his career as a community organizer, and all organizers understand the need to continually engage your supporters, bringing them into the process. When you go silent, your supporters go silent, and because of this incredible lack of consistent organizing, not just before the election to get-out-the-vote, but throughout the first two year’s of this president’s term, the Democratic Party paid a much heavier price than they had to pay.


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