Saturday, November 12, 2011

Obama's Biggest Boo-Boo: Not Adopting Change

All Obama had to do to become a revolutionary new type of president was to keep the one thing going that was so remarkably different about his 2008 election.  It was the first thing he abandoned.  He has only begun to re-leverage it now for the 2012 campaign -- quite possibly too little, too late.

2015 addendum from Time, Sept. 28th edition, Bernie Sanders points out: "What President Obama didn't understand when he took office is that you have to keep your movement alive.  'Barack Obaman ran one of the great campaigns in American history.  The biggest mistake he made is that the day after the election, in so many words, he said, 'Thank you very much, but I will take it from here,'' Sanders says."

When Obama got elected back in 2008 I was a big proponent of pointing out how he'd not only leveraged the concept of "Hope for Change" as a consistent platform for his campaign, he'd 'owned it' so successfully no one else could co-opt it (though they all tried -- most pathetically and ironically the province of Ontario's Conservative candidate for Premier in 2011, Tim Hudack, a no-change megalomaniac if ever there was one!).  Obama's 2008 campaign embraced change all the way down to changing the tools of campaigning, adopting social media in its then fledgling formats and changing the notion that young people are not interested in voting and electoral issues.  

Admittedly, if you could put a 'face of change' on American presidential elections, a younger-than-the-average-presidential-candidate, half-black man was it, but he did bring a new open mind to the process.  What he didn't share during the election was that, if elected, it was his intention to try to effect his promise of change from within the Washington status quo system, not by trying to shake it up in any real way.

What the past years, or especially the first year, of Obama's administration have demonstrated was that the ego necessary to take an underdog through to the presidency had to be SO LARGE that he actually believed he was sufficiently messianic to make things happen from within.  Oops!  Almost anyone, even those unfamiliar with the way politics work, would have told him this was a really stupid conceit.  Just because he was very smart, 'fresh' and not 100% white would not make a whit of difference in making things happen in Washington, a place of well-established 'old boy' networking and 'you wash my back, I'll wash yours' deals.

All that this strategy has done is to allow his opponents to leverage the systems/processes they're most familiar with against the young, upstart, 'black' man and attempt to demonize him in the prejudiced minds of their most loyal (and least analytical) constituents.  The placards of the "Tea Party" participants demonstrate this, Obama as Hitler, Bin Laden, the devil, the Joker from Batman.

Ironically, the one thing that many of his supporters thought he'd leverage to effect change once he was voted in, one of the biggest things that helped him seem like an 'agent of change' and would actually exert a new kind of influence in Washington was the first thing he walked away from: social media and a deep level of engagement with America's youth.  Before his election I predicted that this cohort would help him win because they are colour-blind and open to change, and they did, but he immediately abandoned any further real communication with them (a sad, ineffective little website,, now, is not what I'm talking about), wading deeply into the depths of Congress and backroom dealing. 

My point?  If Obama had only kept his 'grass roots' social media political machine going during his presidency, using his supporters to organize local 'town hall' meetings in their homes to discuss and promote his health care reform plan, for example, the success of his first term would likely have been much more remarkable, and much more of a guarantee of a second term, than it has been.  More thoughts on this point here.

Watch Bernie Sanders make my point for me in 2015:

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