As Congress enacts President Obama’s massive tax cut compromise, one of Obama’s campaign aides is going public—for the first time—with criticism of the White House’s organizing strategy. Sam Graham-Felsen, who was at the center of web and grassroots strategy as chief blogger for the Obama campaign, argues in today’s Washington Post that the President has left his best asset on "the sidelines":
"Obama [has] a vast network of supporters, instantly reachable through an unprecedented e-mail list of 13 million people. These supporters were not just left-wing activists but a broad coalition that included the young, African Americans, independents and even Republicans—and they were ready to be mobilized…Yet at seemingly every turn, Obama has chosen to play an inside game. Instead of actively engaging supporters in major legislative battles, Obama has told them to sit tight as he makes compromises behind closed doors."
In other words, Obama keeps going to war without his army.
Graham-Felsen argues that on most big fights—tax cuts today, health care last year—the most engaged, passionate and financially generous members of the Obama coalition were either pushed aside, or assigned patronizing, busywork organizing, like thanking members of Congress who were already on board. He’s talking about Organizing for America, the 13-million person list from 2008 that was rolled into the DNC. "[The] administration isn’t seriously interested in deploying this massive grass-roots list—which was once heralded as a force that could reshape politics as we know it—to fight for sweeping legislative change," he concludes. While that may sound like a standard critique at this point, it is quite damning (and unusual) coming from one of the architects of Obama’s grass-roots strategy.
It’s worth recalling that the Internet operation on Obama’s campaign had fewer partisan politicos than many other teams in headquarters. The videographer had previously worked at CNN; the social network expert came from Facebook; and Graham-Felsen had written for The Nation before going all in for Obama. So their opposing views are a bit more likely to spill out in the open. Similarly, Marshall Ganz, the famed labor organizer and Harvard lecturer who trained Obama staff on organizing, showed his independent streak last month, when he critcized his former colleagues for putting OFA "to sleep," instead of mobilizing meaningful reform. "The president demobilized the widest, deepest and most effective grass-roots organization ever built to support a Democratic president," he wrote in the LA Times.