Law, politics, new media and beats, rhymes and life.
President Obama wanted this to be a quiet news week. "I have specific instructions from the President for the press corps -- he wants you to relax and have a good time," spokesman Bill Burton told reporters on Sunday. "Nobody is looking to make any news," he added, referencing the slow vacation schedule at Martha's Vineyard. Back in Washington, however, Attorney General Eric Holder was poised to appoint a prosecutor to investigate alleged torture during the Bush administration.
The Washington Post reports that Holder will appoint prosecutor John Durham to "examine nearly a dozen cases in which CIA interrogators and contractors may have violated anti-torture laws," a possibility that Newsweek first discussed in July. Accounts from both publications, however, predict a very narrow inquiry. The mandate, according to the new Post article, is only "to look at whether there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale criminal investigation of current and former CIA personnel who may have broken the law in their dealings with detainees."
In his official statement, Holder said he felt compelled to respond to a newly completed, internal Justice Department report on "so-called enhanced interrogation techniques" by ordering the review:
I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations. The Department regularly uses preliminary reviews to gather information to determine whether there is sufficient predication to warrant a full investigation of a matter. I want to emphasize that neither the opening of a preliminary review nor, if evidence warrants it, the commencement of a full investigation, means that charges will necessarily follow.
Several human rights groups immediately said Holder's approach falls fatally short, since it does not address the range of alleged counter-terror abuse and seems to foreclose accountability up the chain of command.
"An examination of a dozen cases will not bring the full scope of U.S. policies to light," said Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, in response to Monday's news. "A bipartisan commission is still needed to provide a comprehensive understanding of past deviations from the rule of law."
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which filed the first habeas cases for Guantanamo detainees, criticized the new inquiry's presumed targets. "Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives," read the Center's official statement on Monday. "Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated." (Disclosure: I once worked at CCR.)
The ACLU, which successfully sued for the release of several torture-related documents, also offered a mixed assessment of the decision. "While this is a welcome first step, we are disappointed that Attorney General Holder still appears unwilling to conduct a full investigation and to prosecute any crimes that are uncovered," said executive director Anthony D. Romero. "A preliminary investigation absent a commitment to prosecute violations of the law is simply anemic. How much evidence of wrongdoing and violations of law is necessary before the attorney general commits to launching a full investigation?," he added.
MoveOn.org, which had joined efforts by netroots activists and progressive bloggers calling on Obama to appoint a special prosecutor with a wide latitude to investigate torture, said on Monday that while it "applaud[ed]" Holder's move, it was not enough. "The Department of Justice must not only investigate the CIA, but also those who ordered, approved and sanctioned the torture," said Justin Ruben, the group's Executive Director. "We need to make sure those all the way up the chain of command are held responsible for their actions."
It is hard to reach any concrete conclusions based on Holder's short statement. It is possible, for example, that a narrow "preliminary review" could still open the door to confronting the possibility of holding lawyers and policymakers accountable for knowingly constructing an illegal torture regime. However, if this inquiry is limited to a few contractors and junior personnel, it runs the risk of repeating the mistakes of Abu Ghraib, when the U.S. government blamed its policies on a few "bad apples" and further undermined the rule of law with selective prosecution.
9:42pm 8/13/2009President Clinton just took the stage at Netroots Nation, opening with a joke about how many Republicans think President Obama was born in the United States, teeing off earlier remarks by Rep. Brad Miller. Then he turned serious, crediting the netroots for playing a constructive role in American politics.
"I'd like to thank you for what you do and the contribution you have made to dramatically elevating of our public discourse and the base level of knowledge of people [in politics]," he said at the top of his speech. "I keep a file with me on economics and a file on energy," Clinton continued, "I was looking it through it the other day and was stunned at the number of articles that came from blog sites."
Clinton also credited bloggers for being candid about their policy and partisan preferences. Bloggers takes sides, he told the crowd, and "you don't have to pretend you're not [taking sides]."
The former president turned to a few general issues, saying he hoped to provide "grist" for the mills of the netroots. "It matters whether this Congress passes a comprehensive health care reform bill for this President to sign," Clinton said, to applause, and he later said he has always favored a public option for health care reform.
Clinton declared that the new era of progressive politics could last 30 to 40 years "if we do it right." He reminisced about his time working for Sen. William Fulbright, and noted that after 1968 Republicans managed to build a long-term coalition based on cultural division and corporate economics. Then, taking a page out of the Fox News playbook, Clinton jokingly hurled the c-word at one opponent, arguing that President Nixon looked like a "communist" compared to later, more conservative Republicans.
Then, ticking through recent politics, Clinton credited his successor, George W. Bush, for tapping a new mood in the country by promising compassionate conservatism and a more open, tolerant stance towards immigrants. (Clinton also took a moment to knock Bush v. Gore as "one of the five worst decisions" ever handed down by the Supreme Court.) "America is a different place today," Clinton continued, stressing that "the culture" is now with progressives, based on racial progress and global interdependence. The U.S. will have no "majority race" by 2050, Clinton added.
About 20 minutes into his address, Clinton was briefly interrupted by blogger Lane Hudson asking about a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." First Clinton joked that the interruption sounded more like a health care town hall. Then he turned serious, answering the question by noting that at the time, Congress built a "veto-proof" majority that would reverse any attempt to admit gays in the military by executive order. The crowd interrupted several times to applaud Clinton's defense. Continuing the multi-point defense, Clinton pointed to the conversion of Gen. John Shalikashvili, who opposed gays in the military at the time, and has since reversed his position. Stressing the complexity of the issue, Clinton said he "hated" what happened and regretted that gays remain excluded from open service in the military.
"While we're at it," the former president continued, "let me say one thing about DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act]." Clinton defended the bill as a means to avoid an anti-gay constitutional amendment that, he argued, would have been worse for gay rights.
Turning back to his prepared remarks, Clinton urged attendees to continue their work on health care. He returned to discussing the blog posts he read, suggesting that some health care posts may be too technical to win over the general public. The former president emphasized that President Obama needed help to win the larger argument and moral imperative of health care reform, and that activists should be careful not to bog down in specifics. Clinton also credited the President for doing a great job at his New Hampshire town hall, and he touched on some of the conservative misinformation that has been percolating about health care reform. Finally, Clinton predicted that even if the public wavers on reform now, once a bill passes, it will draw significant public approval.
The Big Dog is running late.
Organizers at Netroots Nation already pushed their first night schedule back to accommodate the late addition of President Bill Clinton, but now he's late for that, too. In the packed ballroom here, which is dotted with the most recent annual report from Clinton's foundation, people don't seem restless.
Attendees are cheering on Rep. Brad Miller, a dry speaker who still manages to be a netroots favorite. He just told the crowd that bipartisanship should not be prioritized in the Democrats' health care strategy, a gentle but clear rebuke to President Obama's tack, and is also knocking Republicans for comparing the President to Hitler. "I can't reach them all," he says, "you have to."
Netroots Nation, the official convention of the progressive blogosphere, kicked off its fourth annual gathering on Thursday, welcoming a slew of bloggers, activists, politicians and one former President to this industrial capital.
Bill Clinton is scheduled to give the keynote address on Thursday night. It is the first time that a former president has addressed the convention, which has previously featured Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, Harry Reid, (then-Senator) Barack Obama and (then-Senator) Hillary Clinton.
On Friday, local politics will take center stage, as Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak are appearing to make their case to attendees. Specter, a recent convert to the Democratic Party, is fighting off a primary challenge from Sestak, who has drawn support from the netroots. Both politicians, however, hold positions that are largely to the right of the progressive blogosphere.
I am co-moderating their appearances on Friday -- along with Susie Madrak, a former reporter who blogs at Suburban Guerrilla -- and I'll be posting updates from the convention to this blog post. If you have question ideas, the conference is hosting a portal for people to submit and vote on questions for both candidates.
Update: Nation reader Mask replies: "Mr Melber, while you and the Technophiles are fighting it out in the 'blogosphere'... the real fight, for good or ill, is in town hall meetings."
I hear that, and Sen. Specter definitely held a lively town hall meeting this week. To be clear, though, this forum is also an in-person, town-hall style gathering -- though hopefully more civil than what went down in Lebanon, PA -- so it will be more physical than digital.
The Obama administration is rushing towards a unilateral plan to imprison people without trial, according to a huge, new joint article from the Washington Post and ProPublica. The proposal would completely cut Congress out of the process by using an executive order to essentially bring Gitmo stateside:
The Obama administration, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, is drafting an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations. Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that bypassing Congress could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.
That is a terrible idea. For its part, the White House dispatched aides to push back. From the article:
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said there is no executive order and that the administration has not decided whether to issue one. But one administration official suggested that the White House was already trying to build support.
After publication, another Obama official issued an odd denial to The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:
An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, flatly denied the report to me. "There is no executive order. There just isn't one." (emphasis added)
First, there is no legitimate reason for a government official to claim anonymity here. It simply echoes the official line from the article, which is likely to be Robert Gibbs' line when reporters press the issue in Monday's briefing.
Second, the response is a classic dodge -- there is no executive order now, and no decision has been made. Of course, the article is not reporting that an order has already been issued. The news is that Obama officials are preparing to advance President Bush's Gitmo detention regime through a unilateral executive order soon, cutting out Congress, and thus any democratic accountability, while extending a controversial, unpopular policy.
Even though Obama's National Archives speech asserted the importance of working with other branches of government. ("We must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded," he said, "They can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone.")
Even though the Bush administration already tried this unilateral tack, only to have its system invalidated by the Supreme Court precisely because Congress was shut out. (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.)
And even though decades of legal precedent show, as Professor/President Obama knows, that the executive branch operates at the nadir of its constitutional power when acting without the cooperation of Congress, even in the national security arena. (A point most famously established for President Truman in the Youngstown case.)
Obama's argument for preventive detention "violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional," warned Sen. Russ Feingold in a recent letter to the President, cautioning that detention without trial "is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world." Advancing such a controversial precedent on American soil, without the participation of Congress or the American people, would be disastrous.
UPDATE: The AP reports that two administration officials said Obama is considering an executive order for preventive detention. The article includes responses from the ACLU and CCR, two human rights organizations that have battled the Bush and Obama administrations:
Christopher Anders, [from] the American Civil Liberties Union Washington office, says the organization strongly opposes any plans for indefinite detention of prisoners."We're saying it shouldn't be done at all," he said Friday.... Civil rights advocates and constitutional scholars accused Obama of parroting [Bush's] detention policies. "Prolonged imprisonment without trial is exactly the Guantanamo system that the president promised to shut down,' Shayana Kadidal, a senior attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement Friday, [adding,] "If the last eight years have taught us anything, it's that executive overreach, left to continue unchecked for many years, has a tendency to harden into precedent."
President Obama took a question from an Iranian citizen during his Tuesday press conference, via Huffington Post reporter Nico Pitney, marking a small step towards a more open and interactive Washington press corps. You might not know that, however, from the press corps' reaction.
Since Obama was inaugurated, many media critics, citizen journalists and web activists have been calling on him to answer meaningful, unfiltered questions from citizens. After watching the Obama Campaign in action, people saw the potential for deeper, direct engagement between wired citizens and a President who gets new media and believes in transparency.
Citizen media pioneer Dan Gillmor, author of We The Media, proposed a citizen press corps to corner politicians on hard questions. Ask The President, which I helped launch in a coalition spanning The Washington Times, The Nation and TechPresident, has already convened national voting on citizen questions for Obama's press conferences. And several White House correspondents have solicited citizen suggestions for potential questions at Obama's pressers, including Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd, Ana Marie Cox and Jon Ward.
Thus it was likely -- and hardly surprising -- that a citizen question would be posed at a presidential press conference. Given the news, it happened to come from Tehran, not Tennessee.
So the complaints of several Washington reporters are not only odd, but hard to take at face value. It is particularly rich for reporters to protest that the White House told Pitney he might be tapped for a question. Every day, a few top White House correspondents have special access in press briefings, while many reporters are never called on (seating charts are powerful). And many Washington reporters routinely, secretly grant the White House blind quotes and restrictive ground rules in exchange for access. By contrast, Pitney transparently told readers about his dealings with the White House, in real time, on his blog. The public would be better served if all media outlets took that tack, publishing any arrangements, restrictions or ground rules along with every article or interview. (Readers would be interested -- media criticism and scrutiny tends to draw traffic across the spectrum.)
Unfortunately, the media's complaints threaten to overshadow the minor progress made on Tuesday. (Imagine that.) By injecting a citizen question into a live presidential press conference, Pitney cracked the Beltway boundaries on who gets to interrogate the President. It matters who is empowered in this rarefied role -- demanding answers from the President on the spot, on air, shaping the framing and priorities of our political discourse. And it's past time that regular citizens, from across the country and around the world, get a turn.
UPDATE: Today Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald discusses the import of having an "actual Iranian" ask a question at the press conference, and features a new, must-see video featuring one of the reporters who has been complaining about the citizen question.
Ari Melber wrote about citizen questions for President Obama in The People's Press Conference, which ran in the April 6 edition of The Nation.
This week, Talking Points Memo is convening a discussion of Eric Boehlert's new book, "Bloggers on the Bus", about American political bloggers and the 2008 presidential campaign. I wrote a post briefly comparing the role of political blogs in the U.S. and Iran, and arguing that Eric's depiction of American surveillance politics underplayed how blog protests were positioned in broader networks. The post -- which may disappoint some of the techno-skeptics in our Nation comment section -- is below.
This is an auspicious time to discuss Eric's book on networked politics -- you can't scan Google News without coming across reports of how blogs, Twitter and cell phones are channeling political protest in Iran. Tuesday's New York Times, for example, reports on how the Iranian government's repression has focused on technology.
The crackdown on communications began on election day, when text-messaging services were shut down in what opposition supporters said was an attempt to block one of their most important organizing tools. Over the weekend, cellphone transmissions and access to Facebook and some other Web sites were also blocked. Iranians continued to report on Monday that they could not send text messages.
But it appears they are finding ways around Big Brother. Many Twitter users have been sharing ways to evade government snooping, such as programming their Web browsers to contact a proxy -- or an Internet server that relays their connection through another country.
The technology only matters, of course, because there are so many like-minded people trying to communicate with each other and build political power. Now Iran's heated protests and surreptitious tweets may seem like a long way from the American political bloggers that Eric profiles. But Iran's current new media activity is working partly because online political networks were already in place, primed by an active blogosphere that favors Mousavi. (A Harvard study on election eve tells the story in colorful clusters.)
Likewise, here in the U.S., some of the liberal blogosphere's most successful efforts occurred when it operated in tandem with larger political networks. While I agree with many of Eric's points in his chapter on Glenn Greenwald and surveillance activism, I would put a bit more emphasis on how the blogosphere's campaign fit into a larger network -- including, as it happens, this very [TPM] website. Eric depicts Obama's opposition to telecom immunity during the primary, for example, as an "announcement" designed to box in Hillary Clinton:
Pressuring his rival Hillary Clinton from the left, Obama even announced he would support the filibuster of any bill that tried to hand the telecoms a get-out-of-jail pass in the form of retroactive immunity.
Yet it wasn't exactly a proactive Obama Campaign announcement, issued in a press release or speech. It was an exclusive comment from spokesperson Bill Burton to TPM's Greg Sargent, in response to pressure from MoveOn and leading liberal bloggers. By fusing activism and aggressive reporting, the netroots-MoveOn-blogger network got Obama on record. And when Obama later reversed that position, it was not just blog criticism, but the large gatherings on MyBo, his campaign social network, that garnered traditional media attention and cajoled a rare response from the candidate. (To be fair, Eric also notes that "Bloggers formed a potent alliance with presidential campaigns, congressional staffs, and outside advocacy groups," working with "readers to try to block the effort under way to codify Bush's wiretapping.")
And the Obama White House largely picked up where the campaign left off. It benefits from liberal blogs' output, but largely routes around them to address supporters directly (through OFA and the federal government's expanding new media operations). In his first post here, Eric dryly notes "the blogosphere's nuanced and complicated relationship with the Obama White House" (emphasis added) -- and observes that challenging Obama on policy is "more challenging" for liberal bloggers than thrashing the prior president. Alright. Yet I hope we can go deeper here -- especially with the panel TPM has assembled and the hyper-informed readers. (Including DanK.)
For many traditionalists, especially in the press, the blogosphere's largest impact in this governance phase comes with policing unilateral administrative actions, like the words the president uses, and the people he nominates. (The blogs have "zapped" two intel candidates that way, in this narrative.)
For some tech idealists, including the wiki-government crowd, bloggers can help debate and formulate policy in real time.
Or we can move from process to actual agenda-setting. Many non-partisan supporters of government accountability see the blogosphere as one of the only public places to advance a reckoning for the torture and abuses committed by the last administration -- and often suppressed by the current administration.
Eric has given us important questions and some fascinating stories, so let's get this conversation going...
The far-right British National Party won its first seats to the European Parliament Monday, revealing a troubling shift in British politics, and in an unusual bout of post-election organizing, tens of thousands of Brits have begun pushing back online.
"Hope Note Hate," a campaign that says it aims to counter and "expose" the BNP's "extremism," began collecting signatures Monday morning from citizens who feel the BNP does not speak for England.
The effort drew over 26,000 supporters in under 24 hours. That's a strong start for an unusual project; organizers are simply promising to deliver a list of supporters to the European Parliament when it swears in its new members.
Gary Younge, a Guardian correspondent and columnist for The Nation, discussed the BNP's rise last month:
In the absence of any confidence in the mainstream, a volatile and disillusioned electorate is poised to reward the margins. The European elections look set to deliver big wins for the nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party, the racist British National Party and the Greens. Thanks to proportional representation and the toothless nature of the European Parliament, these upcoming elections provide the perfect opportunity for a protest vote. But the signs are as predictable as they are portentous.
A party with historical roots in the working class that fails to advance the interests of that class will engender cynicism. New Labour's electoral project was based in no small measure on the calculation that the poor had nowhere else to go. A small but determined minority have retreated into their national and racial laagers in search of solace rather than solutions.
The web activists are hoping to shame the BNP, and maybe bring some former Labour voters out of those laagers.
So the conservative pundits are walking back their overheated attacks on Judge Sotomayor, from Newt Gingrich eating his tweets to Rush Limbaugh announcing he may even back her nomination. But all the theatrics are obscuring a larger problem for the GOP: The fabled conservative media echo chamber, it turns out, is too successful.
For years, independent experts and strategists in both parties all agreed that conservative media was a crucial part of the Republican Party's resurgence. Talk radio mobilized the base, with Rush Limbaugh wielding influence that rivaled most GOP senators. Fox News framed national debates and turned party talking points into conventional wisdom. It worked so well, Democrats pined for their own echo chamber, plowing money into think tanks and political media efforts to imitate the GOP model. The message machine that helped put Republicans in power, however, now looks like an albatross for the opposition party.
Let's take a step back. There has not been a single hearing on Sotomayor's nomination, but Senate Republicans are already playing defense over the party's response to the nomination. But who speaks for the Republican Party? As every politico knows, the GOP's Supreme Court vision was hijacked by Limbaugh and Gingrich, two of the most visible pundits atop the conservative media machine. While the Republicans who wield actual power in this process - U.S. Senators and especially judiciary committee members – have to angle for a single TV appearance, Gingrich holds court with his paid platform on Fox. (Rush also dropped by there Wednesday). Gingrich amplifies his views with an online regiment that is downright millennial in its scope -- including "Second Life." His instantly infamous "Latina woman racist" tweet dominated several news cycles, and his blog post recanting it topped all online political news Wednesday, (according to the news aggregator Memeorandum).And now Limbaugh is backtracking as only he can, volunteering that he might support Sotomayor after all -- but he still thinks she is a racist. Apparently racism is not a disqualifying judicial quality for him.
All the fireworks, of course, are good for buzz and ratings. They were also good for keeping opponents off balance, for a time, when the conservative media's adjoining political party controlled government. The incentives for niche political programming, however, run counter to the needs of a political party trying to crawl from 40 Senate seats to a winning national coalition.
Republican officials are learning that in the minority, their echo chamber still works, but it's working against them.
Photo: Gingrich meets with President Obama and Rev. Sharpton in the Oval Office in May.
Credit: White House Flickr Feed.
"Trust is the new black," declared Craig Newmark at a new media summit on Wednesday, predicting that more reliable, fact-checked journalism will excel in the new media environment.
As the founder of Craigslist, of course, Newmark is often blamed for sinking American newspapers by decimating their classified ads – a charge he dismissed as an "urban legend" – but he says he is very concerned about the state of journalism. "We need tough-minded journalism to survive and do well as a democracy," he said, speaking on a panel of Internet entrepreneurs and journalists at NYU's Journalism School, one of the more high profile events at "Internet Week" in Manhattan.
Nick Denton, the Internet mogul behind Gawker and a raft of profitable blog sites, was more bearish on the prospects for traditional newspaper journalism. While it would be "tempting" to hire laid off journalists to blog, he said, "a lot of those people don't adjust well to working online." Instead, Denton expects that Internet niche media will continue to flourish, as the value of targeted, original reporting rises.
Turning to the ultimate niche "media," the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray credited Twitter as his key news source. "As a news consumer," he said, Twitter is a "much more satisfying way of filtering news" than aggregation sites like Huffington Post or the Drudge Report. (Murray also relayed his employer's frustration with the ultimate aggregator, Google, for shortchanging media content providers, even saying that "maybe" the Journal would sue Google, in response to a question.)
One of the brains behind Twitter was on hand to hear about the site's media footprint, which turned out to be a surprise. Co-Founder Jack Dorsey volunteered that he had not expected the site would play a big role in journalism. Twitter has swiftly emerged as a reporting and promotion tool, from providing crowdsourced reporting to virally spreading articles. (For a fascinating account of how citizens shared real-time information on last year's Mumbai terror attacks, check out this Times article by Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter.) Dorsey said those trends, just like "reply" and "search" features on the site, simply bubbled up from the user community. And Denton made Twitter sound like a competitive edge, noting that smart young journalists on his staff, like Gabriel Snyder, have swapped RSS feeds for Twitter to see stories and trends moving in real time.
Finally, Murray argued that social sites like Twitter have not only shifted reporting and promotion, but upended how journalists understand their relationship with their readers. "Reporters who are good at this understand that they have to cultivate" their own audience, he said, which is actually the "biggest change in journalism."
NBC News was granted extensive access to the White House for a special series airing this Tuesday and Wednesday, but some interesting scenes did not make the Nightly News cut.
NBC just posted several "web exclusives," however, like this 11-minute video of Obama chatting during a ride in the presidential motorcade. In response to anchor Brian Williams, The President knocks cable news culture, name-checking Pat Buchanan, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. "I don't find most of the cable chatter very persuasive," says Obama, adding "I don't feel as if I'm learning anything from the debate." He prefers print media, he explained.
Then at the end of ride -- 8 minutes in -- Obama rebuffs his aides' attempt to delay his exit so that pool reporters can cover the scene. Told that White House staffer Marvin Nicholson was trying to arrange press coverage of the arrival, Obama replies flatly, "he's being overruled."
(More from Rahm Emanuel below.)
The President's media criticism is pretty tame, however, compared to Rahm Emanuel.
It looks like the White House Chief of Staff really got into character booting the cameras out of meetings. In one exchange from the short video below, Emanuel swears at White House correspondent Chuck Todd and adds, "I hate all of you."
Speaking to a liberal summit in Washington today, Organizing for America director Mitch Stewart outlined how the DNC is tapping Obama's campaign network to advance the administration's agenda.
The presidential campaign is history, of course, but about 14 million Obama supporters still receive emails from Stewart, David Plouffe and Obama himself. That communication and organizing guidance helps supporters act as "message machines" for Obama's agenda, Stewart said, from telling "friends about why health care reform is so urgently needed" to demonstrating a united front for Judge Sotomayor's nomination.
Stewart also distinguished between "on the clock" outreach, like canvasing for signatures backing the administration's budget, and "off the clock" persuasion, when people can casually advocate policies while "hanging out" with friends. OFA has now deployed organizers to 30 states, Stewart announced, with the goal of eventually covering every state.
Stewart spoke on a panel about "Progressives in the Age of Obama" at the America's Future Now conference. In a question and answer session, Stewart responded to concerns that OFA's health care push may be too vague -- a point I've raised before -- and Stewart said OFA's role was to advance "broad principles" and broadcast regular people's stories, while deferring to Congress on policy details.