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Ari Melber

Ari Melber

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Maddow Responds to Bush Sr. - And 9 of 10 Republicans Fear Her

Rachel Maddow invites Republican officials to appear on her show "every day," the popular MSNBC anchor said Saturday, but only about one out of ten take up her offer.

Those numbers suggest Congressional Republicans are especially wary of a Maddow interrogation, since most politicians jump at the chance to appear on prime time news shows with good ratings. The "incentives" to appear differ for elected officials and operatives, she said, and the show draws more conservative "lobbyists and P.R. guys," who are paid to push their clients anywhere they can. (See Phillips, Tim.)

Maddow's comments came during an appearance at The New Yorker Festival on Saturday, in a sold-out session moderated by staff writer Ariel Levy.

The forum also presented an opportunity for Maddow to respond to an unusual attack from George H.W. Bush.

On Friday, the former President said Maddow and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann were "sick puppies" who dished out "horrible" treatment to their ideological opponents -- and to George W. Bush. "When our son was president, they just hammered him mercilessly and I think obscenely a lot of the time," he told CBS Radio.

Maddow said she was "flattered" by the response. She said that the comments also drew a one-line note from her father, who asked if the barb meant that the former President watched the show.

Maddow also discussed the book she is writing, which analyzes why the American foreign policy consensus supports a kind of perpetual war, but warned that the release date is still "anybody's guess." Queried about the superficial pressures of a television career, she volunteered that it was a "great relief" that her appearance does not define her career. "I don't feel like my job depends on my looks," she said, noting as an aside that few would mistake her for a "Fox Business anchor."

And in response to the last question from the audience, Maddow said if she dresses up for Halloween this year, she will be a modified "man in the moon" -- with a black eye -- to mark NASA's recent program bombing the moon.

AP Asks If Obama Is 'Obnoxiously Articulate'

Political reporters have now toggled from worrying that Obama gets "too much" media coverage to asking whether he is "too" good at communicating through the media. Maybe even obnoxiously good. Maybe even -- here comes that loaded word from the primaries -- too articulate.

The A.P.'s Liz Sidoti is on the case. And this is from a news article:

 

Obama has been a constant presence in the mass media as he expands the bureaucracy's reach into the private sector.... In doing so, he has created a quandary. Put aside for a moment the question of whether government is actually intruding into people's lives more than before. The point is that many people feel like it is -- in part because Obama doesn't stop talking about his goals. If President George W. Bush got slapped around for being inarticulate, is Obama obnoxiously articulate?

 

What a quandary!

Once you "put aside" the actual facts and policy debate, there's that President talking on the TV about "his goals" -- and talking so articulately -- it just makes you wonder if the government is going to tell you how to mow your lawn. Or something. The article doesn't really try to support its own premise, as blogger Brendan Nyhan explains:

 

Sidoti is forced to admit later in the piece that she has no empirical support for her claim:

 

 

While Obama has been criticized for being too visible, AP-GfK surveys in the spring and summer found that most people say he is on TV about the right amount.

 

If the "political" hook is that all this might matter because voters want different prime time programming, that's wrong, too. Note that we only "know" this because pollsters are spending money to ask whether The President is on TV too much. (On the list of frivolous things that get too much airtime, the federal government and leader of the free world are near the bottom.) And then, just to round out the media madness, one of Nyhan's commenters did a little research and found the same A.P. reporter wrote an article last month about Obama failing to articulate his vision to the public. How obnoxious.

 

[N]o one seems to know what the president seeks [on health care]..."I don't know what he wants to do," says Phil Axworthy, a Pittsburgh software developer. A failure of leadership? Or simply a failure to communicate? Are those things the same when a complicated issue is so important to so many? And if a president can't articulate his vision on something so sprawling and all-encompassing, how can he lead?

 

It is surreal.

I've debated the "overexposure" concern troll question myself, in meta-television segments, naturally, and the whole thing feels like the the media is eating its own tail and jumping the shark all at once. Sorry that wasn't more, you know, articulate.

 

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

 

 

Progressives, Bloggers Make GQ’s New Washington Power List

GQ released its much anticipated "Power 50" list on Tuesday, the first compendium of Washington's most influential players in the Obama era, with a PR blitz and a glitzy Washington cocktail party celebrating the magazine's November issue. The rankings are sure to excite and roil the Beltway, where the score is often more important than the game, and in a nod to Change, this list is actually studded with some progressive and new media figures.

The highest-ranking liberal politicians are Nancy Pelosi, David Obey and Henry Waxman, who each made the top ten, followed by Eric Holder, Barney Frank and Carol Browner.

On the advocacy side, new labor gets a shout out with Andy Stern. Paul Rieckhoff gets props for organizing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. And the New Yorker's Jane Mayer is credited for not only informing U.S. "detention policies," but also pushing President Obama to "release the torture memos."

Some new media moguls also get their due: Tom Goldstein, the Supreme Court litigator who founded the influential SCOTUSBLOG; Josh Marshall, the print journalist turned web publisher (on a list for non-resident Washington power brokers); John Harris, bringing the "urgency of the blogosphere" to editing the Politico newspaper (where I write a monthly column); and Bob Cohn, editorial director of the invigorated Atlantic Monthly website, which topped 35 million monthly views at the peak of the 2008 campaign.

I asked Raha Naddaf, the GQ Associate Editor who headed up the list, how scrappy websites were competing for spots with corporate lobbyists and military leaders.

"Political blogs like TPM and Politico have just been incredibly prolific in the past year. They've been consistently breaking news," she said, "and bloggers have been showing up in news conferences, as pundits on TV -- everywhere. They've risen in a big way." Naddaf also said the list aimed for an ideological "mix," since 50 is a relatively small number and they wanted to "cover as many bases as possible."

Perception is part of power, of course, so even if people contest GQ's picks, the emphasis on progressive lawmakers and online media will still reverberate. And the MIA parts of this list could spark important conversations, too.

There are no antiwar leaders or economic populists, despite the election mandate to end the war and rescue Main Street. (Blame the list or reality?) The Congressional Black Caucus is not represented, even though two of its members now chair two of the most powerful committees in Congress. (But one of them, Charlie Rangel, is embroiled in a scandal threatening his standing.) And perhaps most surprisingly, in this season of broadcast battles, none of our nation's loudest political voices made the cut, from Limbaugh to Beck and Olbermann to Maddow. (But they already get lots of press.)

And finally, the toughest task is for Republicans to stay on the list even as Washington turns blue. Obama's Bush holdovers made it, like Robert Gates and Robert Mueller. Swing voters made it, like Olympia Snowe. (Somewhere Alan Grayson is screaming.) And while President Bush is gone, fittingly, the top ten still includes the G.O.P.'s dark id, Dick Cheney.

 

New White House Line Against Fox: It's War

The White House's battle with Fox News reached a new high on Sunday, when Communications Director Anita Dunn went on national television to blast Fox as a partisan organization that functions as an appendage to the Republican Party.

"Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party," Dunn told CNN, adding, "let's not pretend [Fox is] a news organization like CNN is." Dunn also took her beef to The New York Times, saying in a Sunday interview that Fox is "undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House [and] we don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave."

In the most significant exchange on CNN, Dunn stressed that President Obama now personally views Fox as a partisan opponent, rather than a journalistic organization. "When he goes on Fox he understands he is not going on it as a news network at this point," she explained, "he is going on it to debate the opposition."

That's a big departure from how most of the Democratic establishment engages Fox. It's been a long time coming.

While rank and file Democrats view Fox News as an obviously hostile force, elected Democrats have long struggled over whether to engage or fight the channel. In fact, the Democratic establishment even agreed to empower Fox as an official host and moderator of a debate during the presidential primaries -- but that bit of self-handicapping was scuttled after a coalition of progressive bloggers and activists objected. By the homestretch of the presidential campaign, Obama's campaign dialed up the heat, aggressively confronting Fox with pointed barbs from senior staff, surrogates and sometimes the candidate. (And who can forget Robert Gibbs turning the tables on Sean Hannity on Fox last October?)

When campaign mode ended, however, the Obama team initially struggled with how to counter Fox from inside the White House. There was a wave of Obama-resentment for Fox to ride -- and sometimes stoke off-camera -- and presidents typically stay above the fray of media criticism.

Dunn's new pressure is part of a larger "call em out" strategy, recently telegraphed in Time magazine, to attack lies as "lies" and treat Fox as a place for rough debate with opponents -- not journalistic exchanges. Gibbs says playing hardball will work, and he likens it to, well, hardball: "The only way to get somebody to stop crowding the plate is to throw a fastball at them. They move."

When Pundits Attack: The Beck-Brooks Fight

Perhaps we still do not understand the current Obama backlash.

David Brooks caused a small stir on Friday by arguing that conservative radio hosts are, paradoxically, a lot like well-behaved children. They are seen – splashed across magazine covers and endlessly profiled – but not heard, politically, since they do not swing elections.

"The talk jocks can't even deliver the conservative voters who show up at Republican primaries," Brooks observed, reminiscing about how McCain's media detractors could not stop him in South Carolina last year.

After the summer of townhalls and what's shaping up as the autumn of Glenn Beck, however, it is hard to see things through Brooks' bifocals. Besides, as the top conservative at the Times and an alumnus of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, Brooks is peering out from within the conservative media ecosystem. He is, unavoidably, in direct competition for opinion leadership with the "talk jocks" he knocks. Which makes it especially odd for him to apply an electioneering metric to opinion media.

Even the proudest pundits would shrink from the notion that they swing elections. (Rush Limbaugh is probably the only exception.) Most members of the activist conservative media machine do not define their success by electoral results. And that is one reason they look so successful right now.

It is no accident that the two biggest forces countering the new President do not practice electoral politics. The opposition party may whither, but there is still the movement and the man. Both have the Obama administration's attention.

"We have something new in our political life," Michael Tomasky recounts in an excellent essay in the latest New York Review of Books, a "right-wing street-protest movement." The people who commandeered those August town halls and, feeling the thrill of direct action, gathered to create their own Washington rally in September – they are against something. Obama. Taxes. Government. Socialism. Treason. Nazism. Scan those signs they carried around the National Mall, and you see a bizzaro album of the people they detest and the threats, both real and imagined, that they fear.

There were few signs for alternative policies, let alone the alternative political party. The same is true, naturally, for their leader.

Glenn Beck has a long list of concerns about the country's direction. Yet since Obama's election, his most successful efforts have focused on attacking members of the administration and (putative) allies. He is trying to stop Obama, not jump-start the mid-terms.

Congressional Republicans have not exactly distinguished themselves for an enlightened posture towards the new President, but to be fair, even they do not share all of Beck's obsessions.

By his own count, Beck began assailing Van Jones on July 23 and continued for weeks, upuntil the September 6 resignation. Fox aired hundreds of segments on Jones. Congressional Republicans, however, were less interested. In the past 9 months, Jones' name has only surfaced on the floor of Congress in eight instances (according to the Congressional Record). Brooks argues, however, that "Republican politicians" follow Beck at every turn:

 

Everyone is again convinced that Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and the rest possess real power. And the saddest thing is that even Republican politicians come to believe it... They pay more attention to Rush's imaginary millions than to the real voters down the street. The Republican Party is unpopular because it's more interested in pleasing Rush's ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer's niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician's coalition-building strategy.

 

It's true, there is definitely a cost to governing like an entertainer, as I argued when Republicans took heat for media attacks on Sotomayor:

 

The incentives for niche political programming... run counter to the needs of a political party trying to crawl from 40 Senate seats to a winning national coalition.

 

At bottom, however, Brooks misses what's really happening beyond the cost to the GOP. The Obama backlash is about now, not future elections. It is about attacking, distracting and delegitimizing the President to thwart his agenda. It is about ratcheting up the national "discourse," such as it is, and turning the banal to controversial. It is about framing and distorting the debate -- all to impact how both parties govern in real time. Shaping public policy when you're out of power is really quite an achievement. Sometimes, just being seen is enough.

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Ari Melber twitters about news and politics at Twitter.com/AriMelber

 

Ricky Martin Fights Human Trafficking at Clinton Summit

New York, NY – When Ricky Martin took the stage at the Clinton Global Initiative on Thursday, he did not sing, or dance, or even flash his trademark grin. Following the same stage directions as dozens of other celebrities who dropped by Clinton's 5th annual global summit, from Brad Pitt to Bono to Jessica Alba, Martin struck a somber note while discussing the fight against human trafficking.

"I feel that my heart is going to come out of my mouth," he said, recounting his sadness for the "millions of children that didn't make it." Martin was followed by testimony from a woman who, along with her two children, was kidnapped and held for four years of forced labor. Then Luis CdeBaca, a former counsel to Rep. John Conyers who now serves as President Obama's chief diplomat for combating human trafficking, explained that between 12 and 27 million people are enslaved around the world today. In its official materials, The Clinton Global Initiative notes that the higher estimates mean there are more people enslaved "than at any other time in human history," though that's the kind of factoid that says more about population growth than the scope of the problem. But the numbers are daunting by any measure. And the policy experts who huddled on Thursday stressed that many obvious measures to combat trafficking are simply not being applied.

About 90 percent of countries do not have dedicated police units for investigating trafficking, according to Clinton's organization, and many governments simply look the other way. Only one out of three governments around the world provide basics like emergency phone lines for children and families who do not know where to turn when faced with a kidnapping.

While just about everyone is against slavery, on Thursday several panelists advocated a "different kind of capitalism" to punish companies that support forced labor at any point in their supply chain. Some American companies have agreed to boycott suppliers that use forced labor, as the International Labor Rights Forum's Tim Newman has documented, but not all. (He credits Wal-Mart, Target, Levi's, Gap, and H&M for boycotting Uzbek cotton produced through forced labor, for example, while Fruit of the Loom did not.)

President Clinton personally highlighted the fight against human trafficking by giving a "2009 Global Citizen Award" to Ruchira Gupta, who made the Emmy-award winning 1997 documentary Selling of Innocents. She went on to create an organization that combats sex trafficking with education and preventive programs in India.

Bill O'Reilly Raps: NYT Discovers Talk Radio-Hip Hop Nexus

Just as hot trends meet their death when discovered by The Times Style Section - see Trucker Hats - emerging cultural themes usually go mainstream after a close-up in the paper's Week in Review. Now, after years of skirmishing below the radar, The Times has taken notice of the nexus between conservative talk radio and hip hop.

In "The Kinship Between Talk Radio and Rap," David Segal celebrates the "uncanny... similarities between talk radio and gangsta rap."

First, pardon his jargon - Segal actually focuses on hip hop at large, not gangsta rap, a subgenre that began in the 80s and is now virtually extinct. The article suggests four shared obsessions of rappers and radio hosts: Ego, haters, intramural feuds and "verbal skills." Surveying America's fractured media culture, Segal argues that these seemingly divergent loudmouths actually serve similar markets. "Rappers and conservative talkers both speak for a demographic that believes its interests and problems have been slighted and both offer stories that have allegedly been ignored."

For conservatives, the Obama era has clearly heightened the appetite for victimization. The Right's new heros tell the same story, from Frank Ricci to Sgt. Crowley to Glenn Beck. It's hard out there for white men. That may sound odd coming from the party of business elites and racial majorities, yet as the critic Leon Wieseltier once observed, American conservatives, and especially the Christian Right, delight in combining "the power of a majority with the pity of a minority." Segal flags this "paradox" of overexposed, under-appreciated radio personalities. He notes that Michael Savage "is forever describing himself as an underdog, marginalized by the media" -- even though his show is carried on over 300 stations.

In hip hop, poverty, struggle and hustle are central to many rappers' personal narratives, even as success turns those experiences to distant memories. "How does Lil Wayne complain in song about the legions who seek his ruin," Segal wonders, "even as he dominates the charts?" To be sure, few other modern musical genres place as much emphasis on whether an artist keeps it real in his personal life. Jadakiss once insulted 50 Cent by noting that the rapper had moved to Connecticut -- a comment that simply doesn't translate for most musicians -- and echoes the bizarro populist narratives of multimillionaires like Bill O'Reilly.

But this overlap is not new. Hop hop commentators have noted these similarities for years.

"Think of everything you know about Bill O'Reilly -- it's also everything that you'd expect out of a gangster rapper," argued Jay Smooth, a hip hop radio show host, back in 2007. In an irreverent, rhyming YouTube video parodying O'Reilly and Fox News (below), Smooth continued:

 

He's an egomaniac that loves to brag about how successful he is... He's always getting into beef with his peers for no good reason. And in general he gets paid by promoting hate and conflict and negativity, but whenever you call him on it, he tells you that he's just reporting reality!

 

Segal's article neglects those antecedents, and ends meekly. He notes that both talk radio and hip hop are criticized for spreading "highly provocative words" that can undermine civility, and closes by quoting the observation that both camps essentially provide entertainment. What's missing, as any fan of rap or talk radio could tell you, is any acknowledgment of the battles between these two worlds.

Jay-Z, the hip hop legend who eclipsed Elvis for most chart-toppers by a solo artist in US history, released an album last week that personally assails Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh hit back with humor and some sexual references. For his part, O'Reilly has long targeted rappers, not only criticizing their lyrics but also urging his audience to boycott companies that use hip hop endorsements. And last year, the rapper Nas devoted a whole song to criticizing Fox News, and then teamed up with a black political organization to deliver critical petitions at the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

There is more than an overlap in style and media impact here -- there is also a recurring battle over cultural power and the policing of rhetoric. At a time when our public discourse is increasingly poisoned with malice and gestures towards political violence, it is striking that so many critics of violent words in music don't apply the same standards to those who claim to practice journalism.

Video by Jay Smooth:

Media Blitz Continues As Obama Golfs 18 Holes With Tom Friedman

After his big five television interviews on Sunday, President Obama carved out an even larger slice of time for one print journalist, hitting the links for 18 holes of golf with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

The only other players, according to a pool report, were Ray Lahood, the Transportation Secretary, and Marvin Nicholson, a White House aide who previously worked on the Obama and Kerry campaigns.

Friedman joins a small, elite list of opinion journalists from traditional outlets who have been granted private -- and largely off the record -- audiences with The President. Back in January, Obama spent about 75 minutes with Friedman's Times colleagues Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, along with National Journal's Ron Brownstein, Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson. That meeting balanced out a longer dinner for conservative opinion journalists from traditional outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, such as George Will, Bill Kristol, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan and Paul Gigot.

Friedman retains a large, influential following on international and energy issues, so it's understandable that Obama found some quality time for him during this weekend press blitz, especially since the columnist missed the huddles in January. To date, however, it is striking that the White House's opinion media targets for these meetings are almost exclusively drawn from the op-ed pages of traditional newspapers. (Andrew Sullivan and Rachel Maddow, on the Right and the Left, are the main exceptions.) So far, there appears to be little interest in meetings for progressive media online, or progressive radio, or progressive opinion magazines -- from Mother Jones to American Prospect to yes, The Nation -- even though Obama's campaign excelled by looking well beyond traditional print media.

White House aides have previously countered these concerns by stressing that the President engages new media in his press conferences, and recently talked with bloggers in a health care conference call, and that he also engaged citizen media through several online town halls. All to the good. But when it comes to private time on the golf course, as Tom Friedman can tell you, the media world still ain't flat.

Challenger to "You Lie" Congressman Cashes In After Speech

The words "you lie" will live in infamy for Joe Wilson, the overheated Republican Congressman who shouted at President Obama during his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Beyond criticism and a swift apology, the incident has already provided a fundraising bonanza for Wilson's opponent, Rob Miller, a Democrat and Marine Corps veteran.

Miller raised over $50,000 in just a few hours after Wilson's outburst, after activists and small donors flooded his page on ActBlue. Bloggers and readers at Daily Kos, a popular liberal blog, also used the site to instantly create a dedicated fundraising page highlighting the incident. The portal, titled "Defeating the man who yelled 'liar' at Obama: Goodbye Rep Joe Wilson," has already raised $35,000 for Wilson from over 1,050 individual donors.

Miller welcomed the spontaneous support on Wednesday night, sending a message to supporters on his Twitter feed: "55K raised, let's double THAT in 12 hours."

Adrian Arroyo, an official with ActBlue, noted that Rep. Wilson's antics struck such a strong chord, references to "you lie" on Twitter even surpassed Jay-Z, the popular musician who has led chatter on the site in anticipation of his new album debuting this week.

ActBlue, which has served as a clearinghouse for grassroots fundraising for Democrats and insurgent challengers for several years, just passed the $100 million fundraising mark last month. Organizers stressed that most of the money came from small donors -- 700,000 individual contributors with a median donation of $50 -- and empowered activists to create their own fundraising drives around issues and events that stoke public passions. As it turns out, heckling the president with false, hypocritical attacks from the House floor can energize a lot of people.

UPDATE: By Thursday afternoon, Miller's haul topped $300,000 from over 8,000 donors. President Obama also addressed the issue breifly after his cabinet meeting on Thursday.

In response to a reporter's question, Obama said he fully accepted Wilson's apology. "I'm a big believer that we all make mistakes," said the President, according to a pool report. "He apologized quickly and without equivocation. And I appreciate that," Obama continued. "I do think that we have to get to the point that we have a conversation without... assuming the worse in people."

Obama Organizing Advisers Rap Healthcare Push

Two former advisers to Barack Obama's presidential campaign, famed labor organizer Marshall Ganz and urban policy expert Peter Dreier, are now publicly criticizing Obama's healthcare reform strategy.

In a frank op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday, they contrasted Obama's campaign promises of organizing and confrontation with the sometimes middling approach to mobilizing healthcare reform:

 

Throughout the campaign, Obama cautioned that enacting his ambitious plans would take a fight. In a speech in Milwaukee, he said: "I know how hard it will be to bring about change. Exxon Mobil made $11 billion this past quarter. They don't want to give up their profits easily."

 

He explained what it would take to overcome the power of entrenched interests in order to pass historic legislation. Change comes about, candidate Obama said, by "imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before." ... But in the battle for health-care reform, the president and his allies are ignoring his own warning. The struggle for universal medical insurance... is in trouble.

For months the president insisted that any significant reform of the health-care system include a "public option" ... Republicans have made it clear that they won't support any plan that competes with the insurance industry ... In the past few weeks, Obama has hinted that he might settle for reform without a public option, thus assuaging the Baucus caucus and the insurance industry but angering many of his progressive supporters. At the same time, Obama's readiness to compromise hasn't mollified members of the small but vocal right-wing Republican network... If the unholy alliance of insurance industry muscle, conservative Democrats' obfuscation and right-wing mob tactics is able to defeat Obama's health-care proposal, it will write the conservative playbook for blocking other key components of the president's agenda -- including action on climate change, immigration reform and updates to the nation's labor laws.

 

The article goes on to apportion the blame widely -- not simply knocking Obama or OFA management, but also unions, liberal advocacy organizations and "netroots groups" -- and it credits conservatives for wielding stronger organizing tactics this summer. That's an especially significant argument coming from Ganz, a progressive organizing guru who has worked with everyone from Cesar Chavez to Howard Dean to Obama, including recording an endorsement for the Illinois Senator at the inception of the presidential campaign (video below). Here's the key criticism:

 

Once in office, the president moved quickly, announcing one ambitious legislative objective after another. But instead of launching a parallel strategy to mobilize supporters, most progressive organizations and Organizing for America -- the group created to organize Obama's former campaign volunteers -- failed to keep up. The president is not solely responsible for his current predicament; many progressives have not acknowledged their role.

 

Since January, most advocacy groups committed to Obama's reform objectives (labor unions, community organizations, environmentalists and netroots groups such as MoveOn) have pushed the pause button. Organizing for America, for example, encouraged Obama's supporters to work on local community service projects, such as helping homeless shelters and tutoring children. That's fine, but it's not the way to pass reform legislation...

Meanwhile, as the president's agenda emerged, his former campaign volunteers and the advocacy groups turned to politics as usual: the insider tactics of e-mails, phone calls and meetings with members of Congress. Some groups -- hoping to go toe-to-toe with the well-funded business-backed opposition -- launched expensive TV and radio ad campaigns in key states to pressure conservative Democrats. Lobbying and advertising are necessary, but they have never been sufficient to defeat powerful corporate interests.

In short, the administration and its allies followed a strategy that blurred their goals, avoided polarization, confused marketing with movement-building and hoped for bipartisan compromise that was never in the cards. This approach replaced an "outsider" mobilizing strategy that not only got Obama into the White House but has also played a key role in every successful reform movement, including abolition, women's suffrage, workers' rights, civil rights and environmental justice. Grass-roots mobilization raises the stakes, identifies the obstacles to reform and puts the opposition on the defensive. The right-wing fringe understood this simple organizing lesson and seized the momentum. Its leaders used tactics that energized their base, challenged specific elected officials and told a national story, enacted in locality after locality.

 

Of course, it's easier to mobilize against something than to develop an outsider-insider strategy supporting an incumbent legislative proposal and, in the case for many Obama-friendly progressives, simultaneously trying to strengthen the proposal along the way.

MoveOn, to take one example, has been trying a two-track approach. Politically, the group has largely backed the White House on healthcare. Meanwhile, organizationally, MoveOn staff have been working with their members on "Public Option NOW" events. If you believe that Obama adviser who said he was "shocked and surprised" to see a progressive fallout over the public option, however, then those efforts have not been very influential on the inside track.

Finally, it does seem like the August doldrums are renewing the progressive appetite for pushing Obama -- even the House Progressive Caucus is starting to channel its inner Evan Bayh and actually threatening to withhold votes. Just as Ganz and Dreier took their strong criticisms public, there is always the prospect that many other Obama supporters may get more vocal. Michael Huttner, who heads ProgressNow, a 2-million member netroots organization focused on state issues, has a new book out this week that aims to mobilize Obama supporters into taking more concrete action to help and push the administration during this governance period. If progressive Obama agitation moves beyond a few critics and into the broader engagement of supporters around the country, well, that's the kind of mass action that Ganz and Dreier have in mind.

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