Organizing for America, the online community of campaigners for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run that evolved into a Democratic National Committee-aligned “activist” network is undermining its own credibility—and, ultimately, harming the president—by attempting to gain up support for Obama administration initiatives that Obama backers did not support in 2008 and do not support now.
While OFA, the successor organization to the "Obama for America" campaign organization, was a disappointing player during the health care and banking reform debates, it has now begun to inflict actual harm—not just to progressive ideals but to the long-term prospects of maintaining what remains of Obama’s political base.
OFA, so silent on the compromise the Obama administration is trying to gin up to extend tax breaks for the rich, has found something it is for: cutting the pay of federal workers.
An OFA email, sent last week to lists of Obama backers and Democratic activists—not always the same thing—around the country, included a section that read: “all across America families and businesses have been tightening their belts. The President knows their government must do the same. Yesterday, he announced a proposal to freeze pay for non-military federal employees for two years—a plan that will lead to $60 billion in savings over 10 years. It’s one of many tough choices the President has made to cut costs in the upcoming budget to begin to put our nation’s fiscal house in order. And it follows directly from this administration’s dedication to stretching federal dollars and reining in the long-term deficit.”
The OFA email urged activists to write letters to the editor and call talk-radio shows to celebrate Obama’s move.
"Here’s what OFA is reduced to,” griped David Dayen at firedoglake.com.
Robert Kuttner complained that “the Democratic National Committee, disgracefully, even used the Organizing for America email list to try to drum up support for a Democratic president freezing worker pay during a deep recession.”
Those are legitimate complaints from progressives who are frustrated with the right turn being taken by the Obama administration on fiscal issues.
But even Obama’s most enthusiastic defenders ought to recognize that OFA is no longer doing the president any favors.
By urging Democrats to talk up assaults on public employees (who provide a key base of electoral support for the party nationally) and by picking in particular on federal workers (whose votes have did so much to make Obama competitive in states such as Virginia), OFA is effectively telling a key constituency to take its activism elsewhere.
Were OFA to call Obama out on this issue—or at the very least remain silent—the group might maintain a measure of activist credibility. As such, it could be helpful to the White House and the party in future fights.
When OFA defends the indefensible, however, it batters its own "brand" and further erodes the once-muscular infrastructure of political support for Obama.