As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Change Happens From The Bottom Up

Ceci Connolly overheard the President telling Senate leaders that he would prefer the progressive hits on Democratic members of Congress to stop.

President Obama, strategizing yesterday with congressional leaders about health-care reform, complained that liberal advocacy groups ought to drop their attacks on Democratic lawmakers and devote their energy to promoting passage of comprehensive legislation.

In a pre-holiday call with half a dozen top House and Senate Democrats, Obama expressed his concern over advertisements and online campaigns targeting moderate Democrats, whom they criticize for not being fully devoted to "true" health-care reform.

"We shouldn't be focusing resources on each other," Obama opined in the call, according to three sources who participated in or listened to the conversation. "We ought to be focused on winning this debate."

Specifically, Obama said he is hoping left-leaning organizations that worked on his behalf in the presidential campaign will now rally support for "advancing legislation" that fulfills his goal of expanding coverage, controlling rising costs and modernizing the health system.

I'm wondering how Connolly knows this much about what appears to be a closed strategy call. My assumption is she knows what the White House wants her to know. So going on the assumption that it's true, I'll say this:

Of course this is what Obama would tell Democratic leaders in the Senate about attacks on Democrats in the Senate. He doesn't want those attacks to have his direct sanction, these are lawmakers he has to work with now and in the future, and so it makes perfect sense for him to play good cop. He can take the pose of just wishing these attacks would stop, without intervening directly in the activities of outside organizations (which would be illegal, I believe). It's a classic Obama middle path.

At the same time, this is also nothing new. He essentially drained progressive groups of funding during the 2008 campaign. So that past set of actions is part of this statement, too. It's one thing to make the idle "I wish they'd jump in with the home team for the big victory" comment, it's another to make it secure in the knowledge that he could move it from "I wish" to "do this or some of your biggest fundraisers might get a phone call."

Obama wants to control message and have all these outside groups pushing alongside him for "reform." But his vision of that reform includes a broad set of principles and a glaring lack of specifics. The Presidential candidate who said "change begins from the bottom up" should be the last one as President to expect his supporters to follow him blindly.

What's more, progressive pressure has worked.

But there is no question that these hard-hitting campaigns representing breast cancer survivors and others have been successful, and they have been instrumental in backing Ben Nelson and Kay Hagan off their opposition to a public plan. The memberships of these organizations are in clear support of their efforts, and with 76% of the country in support of a public plan, the President seems to be one of the unhappy few who oppose their tactics.

I could probably find about 1,000 quotes from candidate Obama about how it's time for Americans to once again participate in their government, and how we are the change we've been waiting for, etc. You cannot empower people for months and months to take action and then try to stage-manage that action. Activism doesn't have an on/off switch.

I was actually at this event where Maxine Waters expressed admiration for the DFA ad against Mary Landrieu ("I'm going to be in New Orleans this weekend, telling everyone about it") and said, "Let me just say to all of our friends out there, that a sustained effort, directed at public officials, demanding no less than a public option, can be very successful. So go to work." I believe this work will continue, even if it makes the President uncomfortable. He didn't create this monster, but he certainly drafted off it during 2008. People want to be actively engaged in politics again. It's a shame for anyone to try and cut them out. expected, progressive groups won't be stopping their ad buys anytime soon. Via email, DFA's Charles Chamberlain said that his group hasn't received any calls from the White House to pull back, nor will they be doing so, and he thinks that "this article is a very good sign that what we are doing is working. If Senators and Reps weren't afraid of us, they wouldn't be asking for us to stop."

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