Firing On All Cylinders
by Josh Orton, Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 08:11:01 PM EDT
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 talkingpointsmemo.com 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."