The Insider-Driven Obama Campaign
by Matt Stoller, Tue Dec 05, 2006 at 10:10:25 AM EST
Look at that chart above, a blogpulse chart of blog mentions of Barack Obama. That is the Obama campaign in a nutshell - low level chatter and huge spikes that come after TV appearances and leaks from insiders. While Obama has real grassroots support, his campaign is a conversation being driven from the top.
I just read Chris's post and all the comments for the second time. I don't have anything to add on the merits of Barack Obama at this point. I think he should run, and I think he'll lose pretty badly, but I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again. I want him to define himself and what he's willing to fight for, and until then I see the adulation as mostly starfucking and the hatred of him a manifestation of angry cynicism towards the Democratic party. Wow, I'm even playing my own little triangulation game as I write about Obama! This man is powerful. Actually, that's not quite true; Obama has been quite the machine boss in his heavy handed moves against Cegelis in Il-08, and he hasn't done anything legislatively in the Senate to suggest he's capable of visionary leadership. So on balance, the evidence leans towards 'empty suit', but he was a good liberal state Senator, so there's evidence on the other side as well.
I'm more interested in why we're talking about this man, and who's doing the talking. After looking over Chris's thread, and a bunch of threads over the past week or so on Daily Kos, it seems like there are now clear patterns in Obama-world. It seems like the Obama-supporters have a sense of trust in the Democratic Party to do what's right, whereas the Obama-skeptics don't share that sense of trust. The supporters of Obama have a sort of rockstar love of the man, and that's an asset for him. The skeptics have naught but their skepticism, there is no Dean in this race.
My sense is that the way Obama's going to be marketed is as an old media style campaign, with lots of big dollar donors purchasing infrastructure pieces in Iowa and New Hampshire. Obama is a Daschle-Lieberman style politician, an insider who loves comity and dealings behind closed doors. His campaign will keep his supporters very firmly on the outside of the war room. That's not necessarily a bad strategy, but it is to say that Obama's campaign is going to be played out in the old media space and not online. This is not people-power, and we will be kept largely in the dark. Remember that Obama's national brand was born in at the DNC Convention in 2004, the most old media top-down environment there is. It was a beautiful speech that was totally unhelpful to John Kerry's campaign, but it did make everyone feel good and it led Obama to believe that TV mass appeal is the path to power.
It may be. Kos thinks so, though I don't. After Warner dropped out, the only candidate with a real netroots infrastructure is John Edwards, so I don't think you can count him out at this point. In fact I would argue that he's probably got the best shot to win, though he has very serious problems that he must resolve or he'll continue to be a very nice man. What I find most interesting about the Obama-fest is how it's such an insider-driven campaign and phenomenon. This is not bubbling up from the grassroots, this is bubbling down from DC insiders and New York and Hollywood money people. That's not to say that there isn't a real grassroots base, there is, but the people in the drivers' seat of Obama's campaign are living in an America of private jets. Of course, Obama can and will eventually purchase a netroots infrastructure, since the field online is so wide-open, but it's not going to be a naturally strong area for him. It's private jet or bust.
Despite what you might think is negativity, I'm open-minded about the 2008 contenders, including Barack Obama. I sympathize with the candidates, it's humiliating and difficult to raise huge sums of money from wealthy liberals. I don't have a favorite, and like Kos, I'll probably just heckle from the cheap seats on issues of importance to progressives. I believe that most of the Democratic politicians in this race could develop into the next FDR or the next Jimmy Carter, and I have no insight on which is more likely at this point. But I would encourage all people who are supporting a candidate to consider one question. What could cause you to drop your support? What is your baseline? It was incredibly depressing to watch Republicans ditch libertarianism on civil rights and fiscal responsibility, to watch these people lose their souls. Don't let that happen to you. Don't be swayed by the cult of personality in what Atrios calls the silliest season of all. Have some standards. I know lots of you love Obama, and I won't begrudge you that. For his sake, make sure he knows why you love him, and what you expect from him in return for that love.
Update: The most frustrating piece of discussing Obama is the immediate reaction of his supporters to defensively deride discussions as 'bashing Obama' or trying to 'tear Obama down', as if it's not legitimate to examine his record and public statements with an eye to understanding what kind of candidate and President he'll be. It's a very illiberal and anti-democratic sentiment, and it's one that is not shared by Barack Obama himself, who has spoken eloquently of our right and duty to disagree with one another. I love the political process, and that process involves discussion and criticism, and criticism is a good thing. I loved that Howard Dean and Wesley Clark brought outsider energy into the primary process in 2004, and I would love to see that same level of passion and argument in 2008. That level of debate only makes us stronger as a party and as a country, and we should embrace it. Let's fight amongst ourselves, but let's not make the mistake of assuming that disagreement is bad or illegitimate. It's not. It's good and patriotic. If you don't agree, that's cool, Unity08 wants your nifty web tool suggestions. Just what kind of website should they build?