The Two "Barrys" and Movement Politics

Over the last several months, we've read a lot about Senator Barack Obama as the center of a movement. Clearly, something is going on with Obama, as crowds of 20,000 in Austin, Atlanta, Oakland, and Los Angeles show. Just yesterday, he was a sensation at the California Democratic Party convention, as this diary by an Obama supporter would attest. He is raking in donations - over 140,000 so far - to give him a record-breaking haul. Obama was reportedly drafted into the race after seeing the crowds react to him in speaking tours, and after encouragement from draft petitions. One such petition was delivered to him with over 12,000 signatures in December of 2006. Celebrity endorsements, from George Clooney to Oprah, came before he even announced an exploratory committee for a presidential run. Obviously, both his early emphatic opposition to the war in Iraq and direct appeal to people to hold a stake in his campaign have touched a nerve.

But we've also read a lot about the Obama phenomenon as unprecedented, and this is simply not the case. We can draw many parallels with another "Barry"- Barry Goldwater. In 1962, before he really thought about running for president, 18,000 people filled Madison Square Garden to hear Goldwater speak. In September of 1963, 40,000 paid to see him speak at Dodger Stadium, even though a crucial Dodgers road game duing the pennant stretch was televised that same night. In his presidential campaign, Goldwater received donations from over one million contributors in 1964, whereas only approximately 70,000 had donated to the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns combined in 1960. Goldwater had over 4 million campaign workers and volunteers, twice the number on the Democratic side. This despite an overwhelming Democratic advantage in party affiliation.

The above stats come from Rick Perlstein's excellent Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and The Unmaking of the American Consensus, a book I finally got around to reading last month. It's a great read, a romp through the conservative movement of the late 1950's and early 1960's, culminating with the Republican nomination of Goldwater despite fierce opposition by the more liberal GOP establishment. Perlstein's implicit thesis is that despite Goldwater's electoral annihilation at the hands of LBJ, conservatives had begun to organize themselves well enough to hold sway in the Republican Party in the 1960s and elect a prominent Goldwaterite to the presidency, 16 years after the electoral disaster of 1964 had led pundits to declare that conservatism was finished as a political philosophy. As Perlstein put it:

It was learning how to act: how letters got written, how doors got knocked on, how co-workers could be won over on the coffee break, how to print a bumper sticker and how to pry one off with a razor blade; how to put together a network whose force exceeded the sum of its parts by orders of magnitude; how to talk to a reporter, how to picket, and how, if need be, to infiltrate--how to make the anger boiling inside you ennobling, productive, powerful, instead of embittering.

But what does this have to do with Obama?

What's interesting to me is the similar phenomena surrounding two men who differ so greatly, especially in terms of their relationship to the political movements of their time. The phenomenon surrounding Goldwater in 1964 was the product of the new breed of conservative activists coalescing around an uncompromising candidate who articulated their views. This was also true of his political heir, Ronald Reagan, perhaps even more so. In 1964 they were out of step with the nation and got their asses kicked, but by 1980 the country had been changed enough that they won handily. The effect lasted past Reagan, too. 32 years after the landslide of the Great Society, a Democrat declared, "The era of big government is over."

That open connection with a growing progressive movement certainly doesn't appear to be the case for Obama. He is somewhat aloof from the new grassroots, famously telling Kossacks that "we won't be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate" and that strategy for getting Republicans not to listen to their right wing is to quiet our own left. I'm an Edwards supporter, but I 'm genuinely curious about the "movement" that Obama has. Who supports him and why? What do they hope to achieve? How is his campaign empowering people to do things other than help his own candidacy? After his campaign (whether he wins or loses), will his supporters be energized and supplement the progressive movement?

Tags: Barack Obama, Barry Goldwater, conservative, movement, progressive (all tags)

Comments

20 Comments

Re: Its the framing

Interesting post, I don't see a lot of connection between Obama and Goldwater other than that the movements which grew beneath them are expression of pent up social pressure.

I am a 49 year old white male.  I have been involved in politics since '68 when I handed out leaflets for Bobby Kennedy at the age of ten.  My poitics got very left during my college days after spending a year in Peru and watching the effects of IMF stabilization policies. In the '80 I was a community organizer and the Ex-Dir of a statewide coalition working on Health Care.  I have worked as a lobbyist for good causes in New York, Washington state, and my home state of Oregon.

Why do I support Obama?  Because I believe he is someone who can build a working progressive majority.  He understands how to frame issues in ways that are accessible to people who are not self identified liberals.  Evidence of this shows in polls where he does the best of the big three Dems among independents.  I also think he is the first candidate in a long time who has a chance to bring a significant number of new voters back in to the process. This could make a significant difference down ballot.

I disagree with your characteization about Obama being aloof from the movement beneath him.  I simply see him as someone who is naturally thoughtful and less knee jerk about his ideology. He is not a demagogue and less inclined to serve up the red-meat that gets the base going.  I find knee-jerk, politically- correct, progressives almost as scary as knee-jerk conservatives.  Better values but the same absolutist thinking.  I don't operate under any illusions that Obama is above politics, I happen to think he is a very good politician.

I have been involved in some planning meetings here locally, and I have been astonished by how green most of the people are.  Many are highly educated yooung peopple who have never been involved in any campaign.  I find that both exciting and scarry.  My biggest concern about the campaign is Obama's ability to connect to white working class voters.

I will stay on board as long as I think he has the best chance to win.  If Edwards is doing much better in the horserace polls I could shift. HRC is not an option for me in the primaries, in the general if I have to.

by upper left 2007-04-29 03:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Its the framing

I should add that my admiration for Obama began with his speech to the "04 convention but really got going when I read his books:

Audacity of Hope is an excellent window into his thinking about policy and values it is general but generally good.

Dreams From My Father is what convinced me that he was an amazing person of vision and honesty.  He lays his soul bare in a way I have seen few writers and no politician ever do.  His writing is excuisite.

by upper left 2007-04-29 03:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Its the framing

I happened to be reading about Goldwater while also hearing about how Obama's "movement" was totally unprecedented, based on crowd size and fundraising reports. The precedents were all in the pages I was reading!

by clarkent 2007-04-29 05:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Its the framing

Excellent comment. I'm particularly curious about this:

I have been involved in some planning meetings here locally, and I have been astonished by how green most of the people are.  Many are highly educated yooung peopple who have never been involved in any campaign.  I find that both exciting and scarry.

Is the Obama campaign teaching and building an infrastructure similar to the result of Goldwater? Or, are his supporters effectively doing this on their own? I do not support him actively (I certainly understand the appeal), so I don't know first-hand how the campaign is organizing volunteers. I know it's early, so what about from long-time supporters in his old state Senate district?

Also, do not fear green, educated, young people, embrace them.

by domma 2007-04-29 09:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Its the framing

I live in Oregon. We are a long way from Chicago and as or the moment are not an early primary state.  The group I am working with is entirely self organizing from the net.  We are planning a fundraising event for June that will bring together 200-300 at $100 per head.  Then we are planning to ask as many of those people as we can to host a series of house parties.  We are hoping for 50 house parties each raising $1000.  If we pull it off, that means a small group will have raised 75k in four months. This is with no major speakers, no involvement of any elected officials, and no effort from the national campaign.  The possibilities created by the net are amazing.

I don't fear these bright, energetic young people, they are very impressive.  What I fear is the lack of experienced hands.

by upper left 2007-04-29 11:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Its the framing

I disagree with your characteization about Obama being aloof from the movement beneath him.  I simply see him as someone who is naturally thoughtful and less knee jerk about his ideology. He is not a demagogue and less inclined to serve up the red-meat that gets the base going.  I find knee-jerk, politically- correct, progressives almost as scary as knee-jerk conservatives.  Better values but the same absolutist thinking.  I don't operate under any illusions that Obama is above politics, I happen to think he is a very good politician.

I didn't say he was aloof from the movement beneath him. I said he was aloof from the new grassroots, and that's most definitely the case.

by clarkent 2007-04-30 03:39AM | 0 recs
disagree

You say that about somebody who was posting and commenting in-depth discussion at Kos years ago, and who has used the internet in a completely unprecedented manner in terms of both organizing and fundraising.

I think that Obama sees the progressive netroots as just one of the many many factions of this country.

Edwards (who I like) use of the netroots this cycle seems somewhat patronizing. I feel like he's lunging to the left and using the netroots this cycle in order to get through the primary. And don't get me wrong, Ill be glad if he's our nominess (though Barack is obviously my first choice), but I feel like Obama is making grassroots change on the internet that no-one else could have ever inspired or imagined.

peace,
jw

by faithfull 2007-04-30 05:43AM | 0 recs
Re: disagree

You say that about somebody who was posting and commenting in-depth discussion at Kos years ago, and who has used the internet in a completely unprecedented manner in terms of both organizing and fundraising.

For the record, Obama has exactly two posts on dKos,  to lecture Kossacks about civility and tell them to be quiet down about Democratic senators who voted against censuring Bush for illegal wiretapping, and another one to clarify his earlier position (not very well, I might add). And what is he organizing and fundraising for beyond his own election?

by clarkent 2007-04-30 06:14AM | 0 recs
Nope.

Firstly, thats not true. His point was that we needed a long-term progressive majority, which he perfectly echoed in his second post:

I am simply suggesting, based on my experience, that people will respond to a powerfully progressive agenda when its couched in optimism, pragmatism and our shared American ideals.

Secondly, that he would come to us and express his views, and try to explain why other Senators felt the way they did. He also talks like a real person. That shows that 1) he is willing to engage people, even those that he disagrees with, and 2) attempting to raise the discourse.

Armando even FP'd Obama's first post, saying:

Simply put, Sen. Obama's diary addresses in substance an issue that has been a major focus of discussion in our community. Given the source, the topic and the specific thoughts, and the discussion sure to ensue, it is my judgment that promotion was the right thing to do

I may have disagreed with some of what the Senator said, but there has never been another post like that by a sitting Senator at DailyKos.

And did you even read the article?:

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that the Democrats should trim their sails and be more "centrist."  In fact, I think the whole "centrist" versus "liberal" labels that continue to characterize the debate within the Democratic Party misses the mark.  Too often, the "centrist" label seems to mean compromise for compromise sake, whereas on issues like health care, energy, education and tackling poverty, I don't think Democrats have been bold enough.

The internet has been a key component of Obama's efforts to 1) build a long-term progressive majority in congress and 2) to give america a progressive president (namely, himself...but he will be out there for whoever the nominee is).

And, by the way that he is getting young people involved, and political new-comers engaged, he is helping build a more progressive, more enlightened citizenry, which should be the goal of us all.

by faithfull 2007-04-30 07:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Nope.

Yeah, I read it. It shows a deep naivete concerning what Daily Kos is. For one thing, he says he didn't call for anyone to trim their sails, when he did exactly that in his first diary.

The internet has been a key component of Obama's efforts to 1) build a long-term progressive majority in congress and 2) to give america a progressive president (namely, himself...but he will be out there for whoever the nominee is).

And, by the way that he is getting young people involved, and political new-comers engaged, he is helping build a more progressive, more enlightened citizenry, which should be the goal of us all.

People keep saying that, but I would like a few more specifics on what the hell that means.

by clarkent 2007-04-30 07:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Nope.

He says we "shouldn't trim our sails and be more "centrist." He prefers a pragmatic approach.

Building a more progressive and enlightned citizenry, means that more people are well-informed, more people are paying attention, and more people are engaged in the political process. Most of the people Senator Obama is brining in have a great chance to remain politically left-leaning (Democratic) their entire lives.

by faithfull 2007-04-30 08:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Nope.

Again, people keep saying this, but beyond statistics like crowd size and donations, what is the evidence?

by clarkent 2007-04-30 12:35PM | 0 recs
Beyond the statistics, facts, and evidence?

Not too much I guess.

by faithfull 2007-04-30 02:40PM | 0 recs
That was a really smarmy answer on my part.
Im gonna go outside. yall have a nice afternoon.
peace,
jw
by faithfull 2007-04-30 02:41PM | 0 recs
Re: That was a really smarmy answer on my part.

Yes, it was.

by clarkent 2007-04-30 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Movement Politics

He is offering someone who can both inspire people to action and be an effective politician to bring ideas to reality.  My biggest worry about Edwards is his potential ineffectiveness.  At least Hillary learned from her experience in trying to push a specific healthcare plan through congress.  She and Obama both realize the only way we are going to get universal healthcare is to build a clear consensus of support and then listen to all sides and be flexible. Edwards is far too specific in the details, and pinning his plan to raising taxes immediately sets off a certain segment of the population.  I'm tired of watching well-intentioned failures.  

by dougdilg 2007-04-29 03:26PM | 0 recs
interesting post


barack was my state senator in hyde park. he was very popular on the high school graduation speech circuit. i'm now in engineering school but because of him i'm hooked to the civic life too.

he had a way of calling you to get passionate about something by saying, look you can do this; just believe this can change and i'm committed to changing it. look, if you see the south side of chicago, and you are a pol, it takes audacity to believe that things can change, however incrementally. but on the south side what is missing is hope; young, old are disenagaged b'cos there's so much that is wrong. and since it all started with government failure, government cannot disengage from helping solve the hopelessness i see in chicago everyday.

more than anything barack means hope in this context when he talks about the "audacity of hope".

i think most people are energized about him because they read his first book(over $1million copies of each of his two books have been sold)

he believes in people acting audaciously to create change in their own corner.

whether or not 80% of his supporters have my reason is an open question. but that's how i come to barack.

now, his candidancy was in no way his own design, it was a movement; people are hungry to get engaged and people see him as a vessel for that.

i can imagine an obama presidency that holds town hall meetings, speaks directly to the american people, and one which, UNIQUELY among the candidates, will get the ATTENTION of the average american.

can't see that in hrc or any other person. that's the promise of his candidacy.

by pmb 2007-04-29 03:47PM | 0 recs
to rssrai

the interesting thing is that people aren't asking these questions of hillary, but hillary is the front -runner. edwards didn't have to come up with white papers in '04 until further down the road. the presidency is not a position paper contest. it is about leadership(which comes in different shapes and obama has it), good judgment, experience(which comes in all shapes).alright, i think it is no brainer that clinton, not G H. W. Bush won, that Al Gore, not Bill Bradley won, that JFK, not Nixon won.americans have good instints about leadership.

by pmb 2007-04-29 04:04PM | 0 recs
Re: to rssrai

I made my first vote in the 1964 election. Some of what the Diarist say's is true about Goldwater, but his positions were so out of the mainstream that he had no chance of winning. He was the opponent the democrats most wanted to run against and it was in the short term a disaster for the republicans.

That is not the case with Obama, at this point he is very competative in the GE match-ups.

Obama's excitement is that he offers an over arching theme of transformation of the political system and a new movement for the 21st century.
JFK talked about the new frontier and getting the country moving again. He wasn't talking about specific policy positions or how to run the presidency from an efficiency standpoint. He didnot want to just occupy the office, but saw it as the center of action to make change.

He was exciting and Obama is equally exciting and is appealing for people to believe in something bigger than themselves. It is a idealisim that appeals to our best instincts rather than our worst fears.

That is what I think the Obama phenomen is today. It reminds me of my feeling about JFK in my youth of 47 years ago/

by BDM 2007-04-29 11:29PM | 0 recs
Re: to rssrai

Of course Goldwater stood no chance of winning. He openly called for the privatization of the TVA and Social Security. He advocated tactical nukes and spoke of lobbing a nuke in the bathroom at the Kremlin. He told reporters to shut up, and Eisenhower refused to specifically endorse Goldwater, even in the general election.

My point is that despite all this, the conservative movement that pulled Goldwater in the race and propelled him to the nomination went on to completely change the American political scene from a liberal to a reflexively conservative one. I'm still not sure what the movement behind Obama is, or what those in that movement hope to accomplish beyond electing Obama.

BTW, LBJ, not JFK, beat Goldwater.

by clarkent 2007-04-30 03:28AM | 0 recs

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