In the midst of two-and-a-half wars, a prolonged recession and a possible government shutdown, Barack Obama officially kicked off his re-election campaign today. It wasn’t the most auspicious moment, and the low-key video the president sent in an e-mail to his supporters was a far cry from that dramatic announcement speech in Springfield, Illinois, in February 2007, when the upstart candidate invoked the idealism of Lincoln to begin his unlikely journey to the White House.
Obama’s video today featured interviews with his grassroots supporters, who formed the remarkable core of his 2008 campaign, but have not exactly been a top priority for the White House since. “Politics is at the grassroots level,” says Katherine in Colorado. “It’s individuals talking to other individuals and making a difference.” Yet the video didn’t really emphasize the actual practice of grassroots organizing, such a big part of Obama ’08, and the words hope or change were not even mentioned. Those days, it seems, are over. The Democrats’ message in 2010 was: “We’re not as bad as those other guys,” which didn’t exactly inspire Obama supporters to rush to the polls. Obama kicked off his re-election campaign on Monday only to get a jump-start on raising money, mostly from wealthy donors. It’s not clear yet how the grassroots organizers featured in this video will figure into the overall strategy of his campaign. And oddly, the video didn’t mention Obama’s record as president or legislative accomplishments, which one presumes will form the backbone of his re-election effort.
So how might the Obama ’12 campaign differ from Obama ’08? I examined that question in my new Nation profile of Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, “Obama’s Enforcer.” Here are a few relevant excerpts:
Unlike [David] Plouffe, who became a revered figure among Obama supporters, Messina begins the re-election campaign with a significant amount of baggage. As a former chief of staff to Baucus and deputy to Emanuel, Messina has clashed with progressive activists and grassroots Obama supporters both inside and outside Washington over political strategy and on issues like healthcare reform and gay rights, alienating parts of the very constituencies that worked so hard for Obama in 2008 and that the campaign needs to reinspire and activate in 2012. Obama’s fixer has arguably created as many problems as he’s solved. “He is not of the Obama movement,” says one top Democratic strategist in Washington. “There is not a bone in his body that speaks to or comprehends the idea of a movement and that grassroots energy. To me, that’s bothersome.”…