Saturday, June 19, 2010

Extending The Obama Brand In 2010

In 2008, the Obama team's massive ground game left a few local party officials openly skeptical. In Western North Carolina, they wondered until late October where they fit into the Obama Election Day strategy, or if the strategy was simply all about Obama.

In the end, the Obama team led voter registration and drove an intense get-out-the-vote effort targeting first-time voters, leaving poll greeting and ballot education at the polls to county parties. The hounds to the hunters.

It worked. In Buncombe County, Democrats won 36 of 36 races and tipped the state blue by 14,000 votes.

In the 2010 midterms, however, the DNC and Organizing for America will have to convince voters who went to the polls for the first time to vote for Obama to vote for Democratic candidates and incumbents lacking Obama's charisma. The Pew Research Center's Andrew Kohut describes Obama's legion of surge voters as "relatively sleepy" since the election. The challenge will be to wake them up and get them back to the polls again.

Leading that effort has fallen again to Obama confidant David Plouffe. Matt Bai writes in the New York Times Sunday Magazine:
"Let's be clear -- these are not Democratic voters," Cornell Belcher, the Obama campaign pollster, cautioned me. "They're Obama voters." The lesson that Plouffe and his operation took away from the dismal 2009 elections is that Obama can act like a matchmaker of sorts, introducing the party's candidates to new voters and vouching for their intentions, but it's only going to matter if the candidates themselves embrace the so-called new politics. What that means, practically speaking, is that the White House is urging candidates to divert a fair amount of their time and money -- traditionally used for buying TV ads and rallying core constituencies -- to courting volunteers and voters who haven't generally been reliable Democrats.
That could be a tough sell. The thrust of Bai's article is that Obama never earned his stripes in the party trenches before running for office and never worked as a party strategist. He is "a genuine outsider who spends a fair amount of energy reassuring Democrats that he really does care about the organization."

OFA may have "virtually supplanted the party structure." But there is a difference between moving in and fitting in. As in 2008, there is the same recurring question: Are OFA's activities meant to help the party or to help OFA? So long as the question still gets asked at the county level, the marriage of the DNC and OFA will remain unconsummated.

There remains "something of a cultural chasm between the White House and the party apparatus," Bai writes. Older Democrats "have a harder time imagining that a bunch of volunteers and a dozen virtual town-hall meetings are going to matter more than labor endorsements and some killer 30-second spots." Insiders remain unconvinced that OFA is anything more than a fad, and Obama's election anything more than a fluke fueled by voter dissatisfaction and "an absurd amount of money."

Yet back in Buncombe County -- Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler's conservative district -- progressive Patsy Keever embraced the "new politics" and ousted an incumbent state representative in the recent North Carolina Democratic primary. Even though outspent 4-to-1, Keever's boots-on-the-ground campaign -- led by an Obama field veteran -- trounced a traditional one built around ad buys and bulk mail.

That may be change progressives can believe in. But for many party stalwarts the honeymoon is still on hold.

(Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Great American "I Told You So"

In the current Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi talks about the ridicule he and the editors caught last year over his big Goldman Sachs takedown, "The Great American Bubble Machine." The financial media cognoscenti had laughed at his suggestion that Goldman had committed securities fraud. Taibbi gets to laugh now, and it probably won't be his last:
The truth is that what Goldman is alleged to have done in this SEC case is even worse than what all these assholes laughed at us for talking about last year.

Prior to the "Bubble Machine" piece, I had heard rumors that Goldman had gone out and intentionally scared up toxic mortgages and swaps in order to get short of them with sucker bookies like AIG. But – and this seems funny in retrospect – I foolishly dismissed those tales as being too conspiratorial. I thought it was bad enough that Goldman was shorting the subprime market even as it was selling toxic subprime-backed securities to chumps on the open market. The notion that the bank would actually go out and create big balls of crap that would be designed to fail seemed too nuts even for my tastes.

In the year since – and this, to me, is the main lesson from the SEC case against Goldman – the public has quickly come to accept that when it comes to the once-great institutions of modern Wall Street, literally no deal that makes money is too low to be contemplated.
(Crossposted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reality Bites

From self-described the champions of "fiscal restraint":

Junior Florida Republican Party staffer had $1.3 million charged to party credit card

Among the damages:
Over the next 2½ years, nearly $1.3 million in charges wound up on Melanie Phister's AmEx — $40,000 at a London hotel, and nearly $20,000 in plane tickets for indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom, his wife and kids, for starters. Statements show thousands spent on jewelry, sporting goods and in one case $15,000 for what's listed as a month-long stay at a posh Miami Beach hotel, but which the party says was a forfeited deposit.

The credit card records, obtained by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, offer the latest behind-the-scenes look at extravagant and free-wheeling spending by the party touting fiscal restraint. Not only did certain elite legislative leaders have their own party credit cards to spend donors' money with little oversight, but Phister's records show these leaders also liberally used an underling's card — without her knowledge, she says.


The Florida Democratic Party requires staffers and leaders to use their own credit cards and seek reimbursement for appropriate expenses. That's now the practice at the Florida Republican Party, and fundraiser Hoffman suggested it's about time.
[h/t C&L]

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Grounded in reality

Sandpoint (Idaho) Tea Party Patriots president Pam Stout's appeared last week on Letterman to discuss her newfound interest in politics. Of the grandmotherly Stout's politics, Digby writes:
Her politics aren't grounded in real life but in abstract concepts.

Stout's group, the New York Times wrote in February, "joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, the John Birch Society, and Oath Keepers, a new player in a resurgent militia movement." With all the grounded-in-reality that that entails.

For instance, the Detroit Free Press reported last week that indicted Hutaree militia member, Tina Stone, complained on her Facebook page that H.R. 1388 (signed recently by President Obama) allocated "$20 billion to help the terrorist group Hamas settle in the U.S." Apparently, Stone credulously accepted bogus facts she received in a chain email.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It was never about health care

September 11 let the air out of many Americans' sense of invulnerability. Fear filled the vacuum left behind and intensified the darkness already there. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the Other.

At dinner last night we talked about what was really behind the right's histrionic response to enactment of health insurance reform -- reform based in too large a part on Republican ideas. By the time the Sunday New York Times was online, Frank Rich had transcribed the essentially the same conversation under the title we might have given it, The Rage Is Not About Health Care:

Thursday, March 25, 2010


A post by David Frum, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, David Frum, that I cited Sunday night was all over the Net on Monday. Frum's take on the anti-government hysteria surrounding the health care debate included this:
Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?
Today, President Obama signs the Senate bill passed on Sunday. Passage of the health care bill is a Republican Waterloo, Frum writes. Maybe. But I’ll be holding my breath for some time afterwards.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

They dare not call it journalism

Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the New York Times, takes on Roger Ailes and the “video ferrets” of Fox News this morning in the Washington Post:

For the first time since the yellow journalism of a century ago, the United States has a major news organization devoted to the promotion of one political party. And let no one be misled by occasional spurts of criticism of the GOP on Fox. In a bygone era of fact-based commentary typified, left to right, by my late colleagues Scotty Reston and Bill Safire, these deceptions would have been given their proper label: disinformation.

Under the pretense of correcting a Democratic bias in news reporting, Fox has accomplished something that seemed impossible before Ailes imported to the news studio the tricks he learned in Richard Nixon’s campaign think tank: He and his video ferrets have intimidated center-right and center-left journalists into suppressing conclusions — whether on health-care reform or other issues — they once would have stated as demonstrably proven by their reporting. I try not to believe that this kid-gloves handling amounts to self-censorship, but it’s hard to ignore the evidence. News Corp., with 64,000 employees worldwide, receives the tender treatment accorded a future employer.

That is, don’t bite the hand that might be cutting your next paycheck. Even if, as Jon Stewart put it this week, “Fox News might be the meanest sorority in the world.”

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)