Musings on Campaign 2008

April 6, 2009

I have to admit that scouring through the Obama campaign articles was painful for me…  salt in the wounds, I guess.  I had to take a deep breath and keep saying to myself:  “read it so you can learn how to take advantage of it; learn, learn, learn…”

In all honesty, there were some pretty fascinating things even for this old conservative war horse.  The one that jumped out the most was the way BO set up his fieldwork.  Robert Putnam (Social Capital) would have been proud at how they had the patience to build their organization correctly—by building relationships first.  I found the “The New Organizers:  What’s Really Behind Obama’s Ground Game” to be the most inspiring and enlightening.    Based on my own experience of grassroots and neighborhood organizing, the Obama Camp’s motto of:  “Respect.  Empower.  Include.” was spot on.  The Neighborhood Team structure and volunteer training and management were a model that deserves wide attention.

In several of the articles, I noted the regular “tip of the hat” to the 2004 Howard Dean Campaign and its organizers.  It was clear that the Dean campaign had laid the groundwork for what happened in the 2008 campaign.  The tools had been conceived and developed and the Obama folks took them to new heights.  BO and his team deserve praise.  I thought this quote was particularly instructive:

“But the Obama campaign is the first in the Internet era to realize the dream of a disciplined, volunteer-drive, bottom-up-AND-top-down, distributed and massively scalable organizing campaign.   For anyone who knows how many times this has failed to happen, this is practically an apocryphal event.  Marshal Gantz, who is an advisor to the national field campaign, and one of the main architects of the team model, said he’s been waiting 40 years for it.” 

In the Obama Raised Half a Million On-Line” article, the comment was made “the technology now has made it a lot easier for everyday people to participate.  It’s made it easier for campaigns too.  The technology allows us to build a platform and see if people come.  And come they did.”

This campaign did an incredible job of putting the political process in regular people’s hands.  Clearly Obama and his camp struck a chord, the organizational structure was there, and the people flocked.

Now I’ll try to avoid being too partisan by pointing out the difference in the amount of funds raised (Obama $745 million vs. McCain $368 million) and the role of Obama not sticking to his decision to use the public finance system.  Certainly Obama did incredibly well with his internet fundraising operation, but as the quote from How the Internet Put Barak Obama in the White Housepoints out, things might have turned out very differently.

“In other words, Obama’s decision to opt out of the public campaign financing system was THE decisive moment of the campaign, and his immense treasury the atomic bomb of his political war.  Without his vast array of small donors and the resources they provided, he’d have been trapped fighting in the same handful of states as the doomed John Kerry.”

I particularly enjoyed the explanation of the “tools” in the article:  How to Tell your VoteBuilders From Your MyBOs, Your Catalists From Your Vans.  It was a great synopsis of all the Internet campaign technologies I had just read about.  I’ll finish with a quote from that article:

“The BIG advance for Democrats this cycle is NOT so much the data—it’s how the data was used and who used it.”

What I learned from the readings is that the Internet tools had been developed before the 2008 campaign.  There were some exceptional and committed people who used the tools more effectively than they have ever been used before.  Kudos.





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