Barack Obama has become President-Elect of the United States due to the efforts of millions of donors, volunteers and activists. The Obama campaign embraced the internet like never before, not least in the MyBarackObama community that saw thousands of groups form over the course of the election season.
The election is now over, but MyBarackObama lives on. Below the fold, some lengthy thoughts on what President-Elect Obama might plan to do with the social network, and also some thoughts on how we may use MyBarackObama to talk to the incoming administration.
Summed up: Barack Obama wants us to hold Congress more accountable for their actions. And Barack Obama wants us to hold him more accountable for his actions. He said so himself: "We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions."
These online tools can help, if we use them now and in the future.
As the crowds massed in Grant Park and across the nation in excitement of the called states, and in anticipation of the call of the election on the night of November 4, a message was sent out on Barack Obama's e-mail list:
I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.A new president has many ways of being in touch. The national news. The weekly radio (and now, YouTube) address. This one intends to stay in touch online.
We just made history.
And I don't want you to forget how we did it.
You made history every single day during this campaign -- every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it's time for change.
I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.
We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next.
But I want to be very clear about one thing...
All of this happened because of you.
On November 7, Chris Hughes posted about the future of MyBarackObama:
What has made My.BarackObama unique hasn't been the technology itself, but the people who used the online tools to coordinate offline action. My.BarackObama has always been focused on using online tools to make real-world connections between people who are hungry to change our politics in this country.What information will be revealed in the coming days and weeks? Will MyBarackObama become an apparatus of the Democratic Party? Will it spin off of the specific candidacy of Barack Obama to become a more general advocacy group, like how Dean for America became Democracy for America after Howard Dean's presidential bid ended? We will soon learn what Obama for America has in mind for this community, but I suspect that Barack Obama has already tipped his hand as to how he would harness the mass movement of his campaign to enact policy from the White House. In part, he has done this through his campaign's encouragement of letting local groups fashion our own techniques and tactics to getting out the vote. This campaign appears to have found the optimal combination of strong message discipline and decentralized organizational energy. (More on this in a minute.)
And the site isn't going anywhere. The online tools in My.BarackObama will live on. Barack Obama supporters will continue to use the tools to collaborate and interact. Our victory on Tuesday night has opened the door to change, but it's up to all of us to seize this opportunity to bring it about.
In the coming days and weeks, there will be a great deal more information about where this community will head. For the moment, let's celebrate this victory and know that the community we've built together is just the beginning.
Candidate Obama also tipped his hand a while ago. Not when he was running for President. Not even when he was running for the U.S. Senate, but when he was gearing up more than a decade ago to enter electoral politics as a candidate for Illinois State Senate. In an interview with the Chicago Reader at the end of 1995, Obama laid out his thoughts as to why a successful lawyer, professor, and community organizer might want to seek elected office.
"What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer," he wondered, "as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them? As an elected public official, for instance, I could bring church and community leaders together easier than I could as a community organizer or lawyer. We would come together to form concrete economic development strategies, take advantage of existing laws and structures, and create bridges and bonds within all sectors of the community. We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions.Over the past couple of years, the Obama campaign has amassed millions of donors, volunteers, and e-mail addresses. Typically, campaigns keep this information to use for the next election, or to transfer to future candidates endorsed by the person running this year.
"The right wing, the Christian right, has done a good job of building these organizations of accountability, much better than the left or progressive forces have. But it's always easier to organize around intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and false nostalgia. And they also have hijacked the higher moral ground with this language of family values and moral responsibility.
"Now we have to take this same language--these same values that are encouraged within our families--of looking out for one another, of sharing, of sacrificing for each other--and apply them to a larger society. Let's talk about creating a society, not just individual families, based on these values. Right now we have a society that talks about the irresponsibility of teens getting pregnant, not the irresponsibility of a society that fails to educate them to aspire for more."
I have a feeling that Barack Obama has more in mind. Buried deep in a story about Obama's record-breaking $150 million haul for September, Politico's Jeanne Cummings says what I've been thinking for several months about what a President Obama might do with the campaign infrastructure he has built:
With a list of at least 3 million supporters, an Obama White House would have the power to put grass-roots pressure on virtually any member of Congress.That's an important insight, one that I will return to in a minute. First, though, I want to ask a question. Has anyone visited My.BarackObama in the days since the election? There's a message of thanks. There's also a plea for people to buy t-shirts to help pay down the DNC's debt. And the campaign is now asking its donors to contribute to funding the transition effort. The online tools of the campaign continue to fundraise for the Democratic Party and the incoming Obama Administration.
But the Obama campaign was not about treating the internet like an ATM. There was, and is, much more to do online. Obama deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand confirms Cummings's thought that this mass movement can be harnessed to get legislation passed:
Hildebrand offered another argument for an independent network: It could be used to challenge Democratic lawmakers if they didn't hew to the Obama agenda. The organization, he said, could "pressure anybody who we would need to build a coalition of votes in the House and Senate."It could also be used to pressure vulnerable Republicans, a voting bloc that could prove crucial to the prospects of Obama's agenda over the next couple of years. At the moment, we still do not know for certain what the Senate and House will look like in January 2009. If Begich wins the late count in Alaska, if Al Franken wins the recount in Minnesota, if Jim Martin wins the runoff in Georgia, and if Joe Lieberman stays in the caucus, then the Senate has 60 Democrats.
If any one of those variables breaks for the Republican Party, the Democrats will fall short of the 60 votes needed to stop filibusters. Though all things are possible, changes are more likely that the Republicans will catch at least one break than all of the races go our way. It's more likely the Senate will have 58 Democrats in the caucus than 60.
Fifty-eight is a familiar number.
Back when Bill Clinton took the oath of office in 1993, the Democrats had 58 senators and still couldn't get the new president's health care proposal enacted as law. In part, this was because Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan helped torpedo the proposal, but also because the Republican caucus was unified in its opposition. A successful national health care program could have (in the worst fears of Newt Gingrich and Bill Kristol) given Democrats the support of the middle class for a generation and resigned Republicans to minority status. Even after a large Electoral College victory and with big majorities in Congress, a Democratic president could not get his biggest campaign idea realized as law.
Barack Obama saw what happened in 1993, and now he is moving to make certain that history will not repeat itself. Unlike President Clinton, who did not hire his White House staff until sorting out many of the cabinet appointees, President-Elect Obama has moved early to firm up his central staff, hiring Rahm Emanuel to manage the office, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett to advise on strategy and policy, and Robert Gibbs to handle communications. (And Joe Biden's chief of staff is now in place with the announcement that Ron Klain has taken the job.) The President-Elect looks like he wants to hit the ground running, and he wants to hit the ground running with the people who brought him to victory on November 4.
These people include Axelrod, Jarrett, and Gibbs.
These people also include every one of us.
I suspect he will be asking us to help push through some of the programs he -- and we -- have been talking about. Affordable health care for all Americans. Energy independence. And, yes, real FISA reform.
But what if Republicans again unify in opposition and attempt filibusters? After all, as long as the Democratic caucus is below 60, that's possible. (And a Democrat or two may waver. It's been known to happen.) Here, the massive ground game that Obama built for both the primaries and the general election may prove decisive. States with huge volunteer mobilization efforts include Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, and Iowa.
Those states have something else in common: Republican Senators facing re-election in 2010. Do you think it hasn't occurred to Candidate Obama that he could use his army of volunteers to pressure Arlen Specter, Mel Martinez, George Voinovich, Kit Bond, Richard Burr, and Chuck Grassley into supporting his agenda? Sure, not all would go along -- Grassley in particular seems safe. A few may retire. But a couple may just bend to mass calls for affordable health care and vote with the Democrats on the big stuff.
It's about leverage. Barack Obama has understood leverage his entire life. (Read Dreams of My Father. Especially the passage where he gives his take on the Council Wars that subsumed Harold Washington's administration in the 1980s. Author Obama understood the insurgent Vrdolyak faction as expert in using leverage to stymie the mayor.) The modern Republican Party has only felt the leverage of pressure movements from the right: Moral Majority/Christian Coalition social conservatives, and Club for Growth revenue anarchists. What if they suddenly were inundated with pressure from the left to do the bidding of the majority party? Would active minority party discipline collapse?
I don't know the answer to that question. But it is worth finding out what such pressure would do to a Republican Party on the ropes after a couple of (to quote Dubya) thumpin's at the hands of dissatisfied voters. President-Elect Obama no doubt looks forward to seeing what such an application will do once he moves into the White House.
There's another aspect to the leverage involved with MyBarackObama. And it isn't the incoming President's leverage over Congress.
It is our leverage over the incoming President.
Remember what became the largest group on MyBarackObama over the summer? It was the group asking Senator Obama to change his mind about the FISA revisions. More than 20,000 people joined. That development was not what the Obama campaign had planned, but it happened, made national news, and elicited a respectful response from Obama.
MyBarackObama provides the tools to mobilize voices to reach the new President. The site has detailed goals on a variety of issues ranging from urban policy to health care to education to foreign policy to poverty. We can look at those agendas to see if there are aspects we would like to prioritize and then raise our voices to make sure they are heard. Much of this would be as loud support for President Obama's goals, support that a member of Congress might be reluctant to buck if it is sufficiently loud, organized, and passionate.
We can also raise our voices to oppose President Obama, when we see cause to disagree. Suppose we want to continue to press the man who has moved from the legislative branch to the executive branch on the future of FISA. We may do so. Suppose we want to voice our objections to potential appointments he plans on making. We can do so. Suppose we want to raise awareness of issues that President Obama has given no comment on, or may not even know about yet. We can do so.
We can do so through both the groups at MyBarackObama and at the change.gov site. The Obama campaign has mobilized the energy of a mass movement to defy considerable odds and elect the 44th President of the United States of America. That mass movement remains potent, with the ability to both help President Obama and also to tell President Obama when we disagree with him. This movement brings pressure to Washington, the pressure of an engaged citizenry.
I don't think President Obama would want it any other way. Not if he remembers the words Illinois State Senate candidate Obama uttered just thirteen years ago.
"We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions."
We have already started this process. Now, as the new government prepares to rule, we must continue our work.