Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The President Was Assimilated

A few days ago Michael Tomasky pondered why President Obama ran what seemed to be a brilliant election campaign, but has been so ineffective at getting his message across since taking office. He provides a number of possible explanations, concluding that the most likely answer is that Obama's campaign wasn't that brilliant, and seemed so only in comparison to the inept campaigns of his opponents.

I have a different theory. Candidate Obama ran for office from the outside, and was effective in the use of the Internet to build a significant, personal following and a substantial flow of campaign donations. It was easy for him to get the word out to his followers - type out an email or instant message, press send, and... that was it.

When he was elected he turned his organization and email list over to the DNC.
The White House also faces legal limitations in terms of what it can do. Perhaps most notably, it cannot use a 13-million-person e-mail list that Mr. Obama’s team developed because it was compiled for political purposes. That is an important reason Mr. Obama has decided to build a new organization within the Democratic Party, which does not have similar restrictions.
I believe that, as compared to the campaign, the Administration has not been as successful in getting its message out for two reasons. First, the President and the DNC have different goals. He cannot count on that organization to help him pressure members of his own party to act against what they (and the DNC) believe to be their electoral best interests. Second, he understands the need to work from within the party. If he were to try to bypass the party structure by rebuilding his network from the White House, he would upset a lot of powerful Members of Congress who benefit from the status quo. The type of narcissistic twerps who would snipe at a President with a line like, "This is our town". Perhaps Obama could win such a fight, given enough time and energy, but I suspect that it would be at the cost of advancing his agenda.

I would like to see both the White House and DNC do more to get their narrative out to the public, using the Internet. But not by putting out a video of a talking head, even if it's the President's. Have you seen any of the videos produced by RSA? Heck, have you seen the Annoying Orange? I think the DNC, and (although with a bit more caution) the White House should be working on simple, entertaining presentations that have the potential to go viral, because the appeal of the talking head stuff is limited - it's little more than "preaching to the choir".

A final note: if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the manner in which Sarah Palin is now using the Internet to build her fame and celebrity pays a high compliment to President Obama, the man she once attempted to smear as a "celebrity".

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