Firing On All Cylinders

Ealier Jerome mentioned Obama's lack-of-blog-outreach problem, and I wanted to add a little color to the discussion of why such outreach is crucial.

As noted, Obama's team has really nailed down the field/finance side of what internet tools and strategy can do. Volunteers are empowered to knock on more doors. Fundraising goals got scaled up. All the quantifiable metrics of a traditional campaign have improved.

But as an example of the other half of what the internet can do, roughly "communications/policy/research" in campaign shorthand, look back at the fight a few years ago to save Social Security.

In order to sell private accounts as an attractive policy solution, George Bush and the Republican machine first needed to convince the American public that Social Security had a huge problem that needed fixing. So they started telling the public that Social Security was in crisis and insolvent. If we didn't do something now, they told us, we'd all be eating cat food by Christmas. And they were looking to raise $100 million to fund the effort (click that link and check out the post's author).

At first, Bush's scheme started to catch on - traditional media outlets like the Washington Post, and even some Democrats, started internalizing and repeating the talking point that something was wrong with Social Security. The situation was dire: if Republicans succeeded in that first crucial step - convincing Americans that Social Security was broken - they would have an open door to introduce a convenient privitization "solution."

But the Democrats drew a line in the sand. In his book "The Good Fight," Harry Reid talks about the various pieces needed to save Social Security: pushes for intra-party discipline, outreach to allies, and a country-wide tour touting the benefits of the program.

Sites like and MyDD led the charge to beat back the lies about Social Security. BlogPac's "There Is No Crisis" was born. When traditional media outlets adapted the right-wing talking points about insolvency, blogs went after them to speak objectively and give the facts. Democratic surrogates took to the airwaves and reminded Americans of Social Security's history and its solvent economics. And when certain Democrats wavered on privitization, Air America hosts like Sam Seder and Al Franken encouraged listeners to call their Congressmen and push for a commitment against the scheme. At that moment, we were firing on all cylinders, together, as a movement.

It worked. The Republican plan to convince Americans that Social Security was a problem in need a privitization failed. The biggest Republican legislative priority had lost, but only when Democratic insiders and outsiders worked together. If elected Democrats and their allies, both online and off, share a strategy and a message, we can win.

So how might the lessons of that fight apply to John McCain and this election? How could progressive allies help bat down phony conventional wisdom?

Update [2008-8-21 5:57:58 by Josh Orton]: As pointed out, I was remiss in shorthanding the huge work our allies at Americans United and organized labor (outside groups?) did to mobilize people and help with pushback during the Social Security fight. Blogs and other online allies were not the only players. Certainly adds to the notion of "all cylinders."

Tags: BlogPac, Election 08, progressive movement, Social Security (all tags)



Re: Firing On All Cylinders

"So how might the lessons of that fight apply to John McCain and this election? How could progressive allies help bat down phony conventional wisdom?"

First, I'm hopeing the convention can unite the party...I'm STILL thinking a surprise VP, Wes or Clinton, but short of that, we had BETTER look united behind the Obama ticket, whomever is on it.
(Yes, I will even get behind Obama/Bayh)

Then, we need to POUND the media, as you said, we did in the social security fiasco, NOT let them create their own reality and live in it.

It will be hard to break through their love of McCain, but SOMEHOW we have to keep reminding folks HE is a member of the party that has virtually bankrupted this country.

They aren't even real conservatives, they are Spend and Don't collect Business Socialists.....

by WashStateBlue 2008-08-20 08:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Firing On All Cylinders

I don't think Obama gives a crap about the blogs.  He's still PO'ed over the treatment he received around the time Justice Roberts was put on the Supreme Court when he posted on the Great Orange Satan.

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2008-08-20 08:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Firing On All Cylinders

Well, the SS fight showed that the blogs are capable of setting a message agenda independent of centralized direction from the party.  And (to cite some bastards for an example) the Swift Boat Vets showed that being technically unaffiliated with the campaign can help drive further coverage (any time there were calls for Bush to denounce the group, and every other time the campaigns mentioned them, there would be another news cycle devoted to them).

So if the Obama camp isn't willing to expend the effort to help the Netroots maintain message discipline, why not simply take us off-message and let us start establishing narratives on our own?  We aren't talking about anything expensive (hell, three or four key sites linking a certain YouTube video around the same time could be enough to break through), and it's not like there aren't plenty of pros at online strategy floating around these threads...the campaign has always had a self-directed streak permeating its attitude towards supporters, so why not make online strategic messaging DIY?

by Jay R 2008-08-20 09:06PM | 0 recs
I just posted a diary about this very topic over at Kos: 0555/73945/1004/571585 . Magical ponies are not going to gallop out of Denver to rescue the Obama campaign. While his staff apparently are wonderful people, disciplined, loyal, knowledgeable, etc. etc, its becoming pretty clear they're in over their heads. They've been distracted by style ("Look, Ma, no 527s!") and technique ("we have offices in 50 states!") and they've lost focus on substance. It's time to stop with the wishful thinking.I think Blogtopia should stop waiting for marching orders from Chicago and make our own plan. 1. We need a theme -- "reality-based community" and "I am aware of internet traditions" spread like wildfire and all of a sudden they were on blogs everywhere. Is there an Obama phrase which we all should be using and blogging about? Maybe a phrase from the convention will be the thing. Years ago, I thought Democrats should adopt the slogan "truth, justice and the American way" and I still think that something like this, though hackneyed, has power. 2. We need a message. I am sick to death of reading blog posts about McCain said this and McCain said that and you kids get off my lawn. Funny, yes, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Why does OBAMA want to be president, and why should VOTERS want him to be president? And please, please no more earnest dense graph-filled posts about 10-point economic plans or 15-point health care initiatives. The most "points" Obama is allowed from now on is three. Two would be even better. That's right, TWO! Because that's the most anybody can remember anyway. 3. And we need stories, stories, stories. We need Obama anecdotes and history and 'Obama's best quotes' and posts about Michelle and the girls. What kind of professor was he? What did he like best about Kenya? Does he tell jokes? Does he like puns? What was his first job? Was it hard for him to stop smoking? What basketball shot would he most like to be able to do? Across blogtopia, there are people who know him personally, who can write about him or be interviewed about him, who can tell us more about this guy. We need to pass these stories on to the hundreds of thousands of blog readers who are aching to know more -- and to the media who would pick them up and run with them. Blogtopia has been pretty dismissive about people wanting to have a beer with George Bush. but really this was just a way of expressing a political truth -- Americans absolutely demand a personal connection to their leaders. If they don't have it with Obama, they won't vote for him. This is the basis of the "elitist celebrity" meme. So we need stories about this guy, human stories. People won't necessarily see Obama as the guy they want to have a beer with, but he could be the teacher who is coaching their kid's basketball team, or the friend who is laughing at one of their jokes, or the neighbour who's helping them build a back fence.
by CathiefromCanada 2008-08-20 11:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Absolutely

I don't think it's that they're over their heads, but that they're trying to be everything at once, and that necessarily limits their options when it comes to messaging strategy. When you have message discipline as strong as the Obama campaign does, you can't really practice the "fling everything and see what sticks" model that, undeniably, has worked in the past for campaigns on both sides.  You have to rely on pre-attack focus grouping and message testing, which takes time that you don't have during a rapid-response operation.

What they need is a friend who can say what they're thinking, without it directly coming back on them.  They need some group or movement to put counter-narratives in play while they stay above it.  And, frankly, they need an ally that they can beat up on when the situation demands it.  MoveOn seems to be moving out of that role (after the debacle with Petraeus, I can't say I blame them), so someone else needs to fill the niche.  But is there any reason it needs to be a formal organization?  Why not just let the e-mob do its thing?

by Jay R 2008-08-21 11:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Firing On All Cylinders

I'm sorry.  The blogs were important.  But to pretend that blogs were somehow the foremost reason the Social Security proposal died is to rewrite history.

Yes, blogs were involved.  But powerful groups like the AARP mobilized their members and spent millions of dollars on ad campaigns that were shaped the debate and laid the groundwork for the defeat of Bush's proposal.

To act as if the blogs were the only player in the fight is just plain misleading and wrong.  Maybe there is a better example out there to demonstrate bloggers power - but Social Security ain't it.  Sorry.

by Austinrunn2 2008-08-20 09:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Firing On All Cylinders

The fact that Bush's approval was plummeting at the time and the war became exceedingly unpopular. I wonder what would have happened if he didn't squander his political capital in Iraq and the bully pulpit?

by bigdaddy 2008-08-21 01:59AM | 0 recs
He didn't have the numbers

The last year you could meaningfully talk about SS 'Crisis' from a numeric perspective was 1998. Which is why Dean and Weisbrot entitled their 1999 book Social Security: the Phony Crisis. From the Introduction (available online at the link we have this:

We have a chance, said President Clinton, to "fix the roof while the sun is still shining." He was talking about dealing with Social Security immediately, while the economy is growing and the federal budget is balanced. The audience was a regional conference on Social Security, in Kansas City, Missouri, that the White House had helped bring together.

The roof analogy is illuminating, but we can make it more accurate. Imagine that it's not going to rain for more than 30 years. And the rain, when it does arrive (and it might not), will be pretty light. And imagine that the average household will have a lot more income for roof repair by the time the rain approaches.

Now add this: most of the people who say they want to fix the roof actually want to knock holes in it.

This is the situation facing Social Security, and it is well known to those who have looked at the numbers. The program will take in enough revenue to keep all of its promises for over 30 years, without any changes at all. Thirty years is a long time--it's hard to think of any other program that can claim to be secure for that long. Furthermore, the forecast of a shortfall in 2034 is based on the economy limping along at less than a 1.7 percent annual rate of growth--about half the rate of the previous three decades. If the economy were to grow at 1998's rate, for example, the system would never run short of money.

The only thing which has changed since Dean and Mark wrote this is that a shortfall in 2034 (defined as Trust Fund depletion, SS 'shortfall' meaning something different in current debate) has been moved out to 2041.

Conceivably Bush could have sold his message but by the time legislation requiring real numbers and real outcomes for workers came on line the case for privatization simply would have cracked up.

Which by the way is why the Republicans are making this last push, they know that the next four years will snatch the rest of the tattered fig-leaf covering their crisismongering and that 2012 is simply too late to make another run at it. For them it is now or never. Which given the calender means never, because I don't think Nancy Pelosi and Charley Rangel are going to be steamrolled on this, even if there was any fuel in the steamroller.

by Bruce Webb 2008-08-21 09:47AM | 0 recs
Well I have to disagree

The blogs were way ahead of the curve and presented the numeric case which cut the balls off of such things as the Posen Plan (Bush unstated but preferred altervative.)

The Bush plan was simple. Get everyone to agree that there was a crisis and reveal details later. The problem was that their numbers simply didn't run something you still wouldn't know if you were drawing your information from the MSM.

The political case against privatization may have been led by the AARP and the unions, the policy case was led from the blogosphere. I was just a foot soldier but one of the earliest opening shots putting this debate on a numeric basis as opposed to a conceptual or ideological one came in a MyDD diary I put up on Nov. 21, 2004 which is to say immediately after Bush threw down the gauntlet on Social Security. What if Social Security wasn't broke? (And it isn't)

Of course Dean Baker literally wrote the book in 1999 Social Security: the Phony Crisis and Krugman and Delong were on this early as well on the technical side, with Josh active on the political side, but much of the heavy lifting was done in comment threads at Delong (again), Thoma (EV) and Max Sawicky. In thinking about it we had two battles going on, one at the AARP/labor union/Congressional level which was driven entirely by concepts and one at the blogosphere level driven by data. The blogs cut off their feet/balls leaving it relatively easy for the outside groups to cut off their head.

But even now most of Congress and the MSM are woefully underinformed on the actual financials of Social Security, the point end of the policy spear is still being directed from below.

by Bruce Webb 2008-08-21 09:34AM | 0 recs
V8, firing On All Cylinders

To save gas, I guess.

by Gray 2008-08-20 09:42PM | 0 recs
Earth to Obamanistas...

Funny you mention the Democrats' "line in the sand" to protect Social Security, considering Obama has gone out of his way to blur that line.  Guess he missed the Save Social Security memo, singlehandedly reviving the word "crisis," and expressing openness to partial privatization.  He's not a collaborator, you say, it's just that his expansive intellect cannot be constrained by mere rhetorical stratagems.  Of course he'd never actually waffle on something so fundamental.  But then, that's what you thought about FISA, and campaign finance, and coastal drilling, and...

What good are blogs when your standard bearer is off script?


by adrienne4dean 2008-08-20 09:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Earth to Obamanistas...

What's with the rightwing smear nicknames? Is it possible for you (and others) to levy valid criticisms without sounding like Sean Hannity?

by bigdaddy 2008-08-21 02:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Earth to Obamanistas...

Seriously.  Get the governor's name out of yours.  Dean would slap the shit out of you for spewing this shit.

by lojasmo 2008-08-30 09:54AM | 0 recs
Focus on Straight Talk vs. McCain Lies

Re: How to apply the lesson to this election

I'd like to see a coordinated effort to catch and publicize every lie and misstatement McCain makes -- and contrast them with his claim of giving 'straight talk my friends.' DFH blogs are on the case, but to be effective it must be multi-pronged, with the candidate, surrogates, paid media all pushing the 'straight talk vs. lies/misstatements' contrast meme etc. into the election dialog.

There are new examples every day.  Wednesday, standing in front of a huge banner that said "Straight Talk Town Hall" McCain told an audience member he agree with her suggestion to bring back the draft, which he previously opposed. Now, that's some straight talk my friends...

Of course, at the moment Obama and his people seem content to allow McCain continued, unfettered use of the Straight Talk brand, so...

by Steve in Sacto 2008-08-21 12:10AM | 0 recs
Josh how can you not mention....

..Americans United to Protect Social Security?

They were the national campaign that handed Pres. Bush his first legislative defeat which also was so successful in raising awareness of Republican AND Democratic (Lieberman? Remember him always trying to surrender on behalf of the Democratic Party to stay relevant?) that many of them are former Congressman.

Shit we even knocked off the chair of the freaking ways and means in FL22!!

I think its important to remember who ran that campaign.

None other than Paul Tewes and Steve Hildebrand with Brad Woodhouse and Cara Morris doing communication and Denise Feriozi running the national field program.

Those names should sound very familiar to you.

Also I think most of this concern is about Obama completely going around the all powerful netroots community and dwarfing them with his personal netroots galaxy.

Your fight is a fight to stay relevant after his victory in my opinion.

by ObamaWarner 2008-08-21 12:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Josh how can you not mention....

Point taken on Americans United.

But your conclusion about motivation is hasty and dismissive.

The netroots wants to win. Bad. Helping hit back in a coordinated way is part of that.

And the "personal netroots" vs. established netroots frame grossly misunderstands what's going on. I think any number of accounts show that folks activated strictly through one campaign won't necessarily stay isolated in that channel. Progressives largely hold their leaders accountable, and online communities don't exist in vacuums. Political blogs will be relevant after the election regardless.

by Josh Orton 2008-08-21 02:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Josh how can you not mention....

"Obama completely going around the all powerful netroots community and dwarfing them with his personal netroots galaxy."

Wow, how can I miss seeing a whole galaxy?

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-08-21 03:51AM | 0 recs
We're struggling at The Moderate Voice with Obama

This is an issue that's been irking us at The Moderate Voice for some time now. We cannot seem to get anyone in the Obama campaign to communicate with us on a regular, non-astroturf basis.  And we have some solid Obama supporters who post regularly at TMV.

by elrod 2008-08-21 12:52AM | 0 recs
Re: We're struggling at The Moderate Voice

Yep, your voice is all too common. You know, I don't need the outreach or expect it (though I do for Josh, Jon & Todd). They are so petty in that campaign with the offense taken at criticism that I've leveled on Obama that they couldn't even bring themselves to buy a blogad here when they had their national blogad buy a while back, lol. But you'd think they'd do more for the bloggers that have had their back all along, or have some sort of national plan with the netroots now that Obama is the nominee, but no, nothing.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-08-21 03:55AM | 0 recs


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