Obama Power : Soapbox Obama has quickly become the most powerful Democrat in the country by constructing an organization that exists outside of the traditional Democratic structure.
NPR logo

Listen to Joshua Levy's audio post

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90466780/90493739" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Obama Power

Obama Power

Listen to Joshua Levy's audio post

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90466780/90493739" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

MP3 Download

Joshua Levy Associate Editor, techPresident.com
Last weekend, as I spent a late spring day walking around Brooklyn, I noticed a pattern: Obama volunteers seemed to be standing on every corner. They were holding clipboards and wearing buttons sporting that famously clean Obama logo with a new phrase attached: Vote for Change. That's the name of a new Obama initiative launched last week in which the campaign is scattering volunteers across all 50 states in an effort to register as many new (Democratic) voters as possible.

"So you're an Obama volunteer," I said to one man standing in front
of the Brooklyn Museum. "No, I'm just registering voters," he
responded. I pointed to his prominent Obama button. "Right now we're
just interested in registering voters," he said.

While Vote for Change makes it clear that Obama is looking past
Hillary Clinton to John McCain and the general election, it's also an
example of how Obama's campaign has been taking on the tasks typically
reserved for progressive activists or the Democratic party itself.

Obama has quickly become the most powerful Democrat in the country
by constructing an organization that exists outside of the traditional
Democratic structure. In a fantastic, linked-around-the-blogosphere
post last week, OpenLeft blogger and progressive activist Matt Stoller
counted
the ways
that Obama's campaign machine has eschewed the help of
traditional Democratic groups to build his own network of supporters,
fundraisers, organizers, and communications systems from the ground
up:

From top to bottom, they have destroyed their opponents within
the party, stolen out from under them their base, and persuaded a
whole set of individuals from blog readers to people in the pews to
ignore intermediaries and believe in Barack as a pure vessel of
change... He's consolidating power within the party.

In addition, this week the Politico's Ben Smith reported that the Obama campaign is "steering the candidate's
wealthy supporters away from independent Democratic groups," i.e.,
issue-oriented 527s that traditionally help frame electoral messages
via TV ads and other communications tools (think Swift Boat Veterans
for Truth or Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films), and toward the campaign
itself. The move may be directed at certain media-centric 527s like
David Brock's Media Matters and
John Podesta's Center for
American Progress
, both of which could be perceived as too close
to Hillary Clinton, though the Obama camp hasn't clarified its
reasoning. In any case, it's unlikely that Obama wants to cut off all
third-party funders. My guess is that the campaign is trying to
control its positive, unifying message as tightly as possible, lest
any mud get slung around by progressive partisans.

For whatever reasons, it's clear that Obama is busy building a
parallel Democratic infrastructure and movement. Washington-based 527s
and Democratic loyalists may end up crying foul, but progressives
across the country will benefit from more money and influence than
they've had in years. Are they making a Faustian deal or witnessing
the birth of a new Democratic Party?