Who’s to blame for that?

Matt Yglesias

The Cost Of A Demobilized Left

Watching the growth of Occupy Wall Street solidarity protests around the country, it’s hard not to be reminded of the lost opportunity to mobilize a left-wing popular movement back in the winter of 2008-2009 and the spring of 2009. That was a time when Congress was psychologically prepared to address the issues of joblessness, the availability of health care and education, and the ecological sustainability of the global economy. But instead of hearing from a popular protest movement driving at roughly those things, the powers that be were faced instead with a mania for austerity and deregulation driven by racial resentment.

The problem at that point was the fundamentally paradoxical attitude of the Democratic Party leadership. On the one hand, they want to be in the center of American politics. On the other hand, they’re viciously opposed to the emergence of any kind of mass movement to the left of the Democratic Party leadership. This combination of preferences is simply not viable. I’m not saying it would have been smart for Barack Obama and Harry Reid to lead radical protest marches, but it would have been smart of them to see it as beneficial if someone was doing so. The dynamic in the House GOP where the Tea Party caucus sometimes annoys John Boehner but also repositions him as a moderate and reasonable guy and gives him leverage in the process. The giant puppet people protests against “globalization” in the late-1990s were, I think, always helpful to Bill Clinton.* They gave him the positioning he wanted — as a center-left mildly progressive neoliberal technocrat trying to take practical steps toward prosperity. People in the streets chanting about “corporate greed” is a useful reality check to the c-suites that could have helped restrain their fantasies about Kenyan anti-colonialist sharia socialism.

But Team Obama didn’t want progressive groups to put people in the streets back when he was powerful and prestigious enough that such protests could have given him a commanding position in the center of American politics. Instead the mass movement has arisen at a time when the president looks weak, mildly unpopular, etc. That’s no coincidence. But the same process that’s taken the shine off Obama has hurt progressive issues across the board and will make it much harder to make tangible progress on anything.

Remember back in 2008 when one of the selling points about Obama was his mad organizational skills? Supposedly he would mobilize “Obama for America” (now “Organizing for America”) to flood congressional phone lines and mail rooms to push his agenda the same way they flooded the intertoobz with lies and smears about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

So what happened?

What happened to Barack Obama’s once vaunted political machine? The outfit that put upwards of 8 million volunteers on the street in 2008 — known as Organizing for America — is a ghost of its former self. Its staff has shrunk from 6,000 to 300, and its donors are depressed: receipts are a fraction of what they were in 2008. Virtually no one in politics believes it will turn many contests this fall. “There’s no chance that OFA is going to have the slightest impact on the midterms,” says Charlie Cook, who tracks congressional races.

Neglect is to blame. After Obama was elected, his political aides ignored the army he had created until it eventually disappeared. No one was in charge; decisions were often deferred but rarely made. By the time they realized they needed more troops, says longtime consultant Joe Trippi, “their supporters had taken a vacation from politics.”

New York Times on 1/26/2009:

Mr. Plouffe said the group had not settled on a budget or begun serious fund-raising. The goal is to have a relatively small staff, with representatives in most, if not every, state, and to make up any shortfall in personnel with the use of technology.

There is a clear interest in keeping the Internet-based political machinery that made Mr. Obama’s brand so iconic and that helped him raise record amounts. The new group’s initials, O.F.A., conveniently also apply to his Obama for America campaign. And the desire for the Obama organization to live on was voiced in a meeting of organizers in Chicago after Election Day, and echoed at 4,800 house meetings in December and in a survey completed by 500,000 Obama supporters.

Still, sensitive to ruffling feathers even among fellow Democrats wary of Mr. Obama’s huge political support, Mr. Obama’s aides emphasized that the effort was not created to lobby directly or pressure members of Congress to support Mr. Obama’s programs.

“This is not a political campaign,” Mr. Plouffe said. “This is not a ‘call or e-mail your member of Congress’ organization.”

Let’s go back to what Matt said:

But Team Obama didn’t want progressive groups to put people in the streets back when he was powerful and prestigious enough that such protests could have given him a commanding position in the center of American politics.

Once more:

Team Obama didn’t want progressive groups to put people in the streets

Now why would they not want that if they intended to pursue a progressive agenda? The question almost answers itself.

They didn’t intend to pursue a progressive agenda.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

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18 Responses to Who’s to blame for that?

  1. crawdad says:

    When they disbanded Obama for America did they call it “The night of the long knives?”

    • Dario says:

      Team Obama did not want the left to put pressure on him because he was throwing the professional left under the bus and running over the them as quickly as he could.

  2. WMCB says:

    Speaking of blame, Speaker Boehner has a sense of humor. Remember those trade agreements that Obama railed at Congress for not having passed yet?

  3. ralphb says:

    Claire McCaskill wants to be reelected. Heh heh

    McCaskill won’t be in Missouri Tuesday for President Obama’s visit


    • Mimi says:

      Wasn’t she one of the ones whose children adored Obama and she just had to support him because of them? Maybe she will make her kids meet him at the airport.

    • WMCB says:

      Every Dem in sight, except those in absolutely safe Obot districts, are going to be running away from him as fast as they can.

      We are going to see campaign literature that nowhere even mentions that they are a Democrat. Watch.

  4. DeniseVB says:

    Solidarity Mattie? Pray tell, what are they solidarity-ing FOR ? And where are the Obama is Evil signs? (dang, where’s the LaRouchies when you need them, they love this sh*t)

  5. ralphb says:

    nekkid capitalism: Stocks Hammered by EuroCrisis Worries; Bank of America, Citi Down Nearly 10%

    Damned Eurozone.

    It’s becoming increasingly obvious to Mr. Market that the officialdom in Europe is not on a path to resolving its burgeoning sovereign/bank crisis. It is insisting on imposing austerity on debt burdened countries, which will only shrink their GDPs, making their debt hangovers even worse.

    And Germany wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to preserve the Eurozone for the express reason of maintaining its trade surpluses, yet not continue to lend to its trade partners. Angela Merkel has stated the reason not to allow Greece to exit the currency union and depreciate its currency is that the Euro would rise on the assumption that other periphery countries would exit, and a strong Euro would hurt German exports. Duh. The Eurozone needs a combination of debt writeoffs, recapitalization of banks, and a program to reduce the magnitude of German surpluses with its EU trade partners. Even if the Eurocrats can figure out a way to create a big enough rescue facility to get through the next year or so, a solution will break down under continuing stresses unless the fundamental pressures are addressed.

    There would be one piece of not terrible news, if someone would fire Tim Geithner right now.

    The plunge in the price of Bank of America’s stock today suggests the US regulators are going to have the opportunity that they missed in 2009, to resolve a major bank and send a warning to the rest that the costs of failure will be imposed on those responsible, management and the board, and those who signed up to invest in risk capital, meaning BofA stock and bondholders. But as we indicated last year, Team Obama has cast its lot in with the banks, and no “Nixon goes to China” moment can be expected from the banksters’ best friend, Timothy Geithner.

  6. ralphb says:

    Fla poll: Romney 28%, Cain 24, Gingrich 10, Perry 9

    Three takeaways from this poll. 1) Cain is for real. 2) Perry is being advised by morons. 3) Romney can’t break 30%.

  7. Ian says:

    “They didn’t intend to pursue a progressive agenda.”

    That’s funny. I remember during the election, every Republican politician, pundit, and blogger informed the nation that Obama was the most liberal liberal who ever liberaled. What happened?

    • myiq2xu says:

      No, the Republicans said he was a socialist. Obama’s supporters said he was the most liberal liberal who ever liberaled.

      We said they were both wrong. We said he was a conservative DINOcrat.

      We were right.

  8. Three Wickets says:

    Matt Y says Obama was too strong to be a progressive before, now he’s too weak to be a progressive. He keeps making excuses for Obama, when he should just wake up to the fact that Obama was never a progressive to begin with. Matt’s a smart kid, but like most Obots he needs some growing up.

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