Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Ground Game

Given the make up of his potential advisors, we're in for a long uphill battle. So let's drop our illusions and start organizing, beginning with a discussion of what "organizing" even means in today's political climate.

Joshua Frank

DISTINGUISH between fascism which is organization, with the organizer at its head, to whom the power has not been GIVEN, but who has organized the power, and the state of America...

Ezra Pound

I'm almost afraid to suggest it. But there seems to be reason to believe that if Obama had lost the election he would still have been able to run the country. By the time the polls opened, Obama had all the relevant billionaires and warlords behind him, and he had the better part of the nation's energy and intelligence organized "on the ground". At that point he didn't need the Office to change America. America had already changed. He could simply have ordered a March on D.C. I'm not saying he would have; I'm simply pointing out that he probably could have.

By the same token, in his acceptance speech, I had hoped (knowing better) that he would tell his legion of volunteers to return to the neighbourhoods they had canvassed, this time not as campaigners but as those fabled "community organizers". That he would inspire them to keep up the work "on the ground" instead of thinking of their work as over. One might argue that he sort of did. But he could have been much more direct. The joke about the legions of now-aimless Obama supporters walking the streets like zombies or flaking out on the couch (there's an Onion video to this effect) captures some of this mood. Obama built up an organization around a purpose that seemed endless. Then it strangely ended.

Is it Year One in America? Anno I E.S. (l'era di speranza)?


soren buhl said...

I think there's a popular misunderstanding of the relation between rhetorics and organization: that Obama has until now excelled in campaign rhetorics and campaign organizing, and that he is now starting from scratch on what we may call formal political organization. Some are even cross that he seems to be hiring outright professionals for the job. THe way I see it, Obama was never the revolutionary figure that you want him to be, Thomas, but that his campaign organizing is becoming a necessary feature in formal politics (look at the way elected politicians are trying to pick up his best practices). So, at its core, his organization was never different from that of fascism, even. That is why I don't believe that his campaign organization has "strangely ended". I am sure everything is picked up, stored in the Obama data warehouse and put to immediate use.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Hold on a second. You grant (a) that his organization is essentially fascist and (b) that, with his election, organizing is becoming "a necessary feature in formal politics" but NOT (c) that he is the revolutionary figure I take him to be (I'm not sure I ever "wanted" him to be that).

Even level-headed people like Colin Powell supported him because he is a "tranformational" figure.

That said, yes, I think his organization is moving into the White House with him. And in that sense it hasn't come to an end.

But if he keeps tending his "movement" at the grassroots level then the similarities to fascism are even stronger.

soren buhl said...

Perhaps there's a revolutionism of form and one of content. Most people seem to aggree that Obama is truly renewing political form (internet, text messages and so on), while fewer would say that his content, his issues, are revolutionary. Take for instance the ownership speech: this strikes me as being potentially very radical indeed in its content, its philosophy, but I don't think it was meant that way. I think the wordplay of ownership and "you're on your own" was just too irresisteble to pass up for the speech-writers.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Here's an interesting indication of Obama's internet dominance. The "ownership society" bit could be seen as more than just an irresistable play on words. Obama's very hip staff wrote with the blogging and YouTube headlines in mind: "Obama Owns McCain". Google that phrase and you get 845 hits. Google "McCain Owns Obama" and you get 338. That doesn't mean Obama beat McCain that much more often, only that Obama's supporters describe it that way more often.

It's even more striking at the next level of hipness: "Obama Pwns McCain"--672 hits. "McCain Pwns Obama"--76.

Obama stands for the Pwnership Society.