Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Obama's "Big Things" Email is an "Unforced Error"

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, April 28 2011

As Nancy Scola noted here yesterday, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina may be an unlikely video star, whose David Plouffe-like "strategy update" to the campaign's base has been getting almost as many views as one from the President announcing his re-election bid. But an email today from Obama to his list titled "Big things" seemed oddly disconnected from the obvious passions firing up his core base at the moment.

The email is a straight-out fundraising appeal that starts out:

If it were easy to do the big, meaningful things we believe will make our country better -- if it were quick -- someone would have done those things long before any of us showed up.

We've chosen to do something hard.

You know that our victories so far have been hard won: taking the difficult steps necessary to put our economy back on track, reforming Wall Street excess despite an army of lobbyists against us, and making health care more affordable and accessible despite well-organized opposition by those who profit from the status quo.

You also know we have not yet done everything we set out to do -- not nearly.

But that's a reason to work harder, not to let up. That's why we're building this campaign now. And you have to take ownership of it.

You played a critical role in building our campaign last time around. So I will be direct: Can you step up and make a donation of $75 to get us started for 2012?

What's missing? Um, any reference to the hot-button news of the week: the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate and the seemingly unending controversy over the issue. Longtime techPresident contributor and Nation writer Ari Melber calls this an "unforced error." He told me earlier today:

From a purely strategic political perspective, the mainlining of the birther attack is a major mobilizing opportunity, and it's the kind of thing they were adept at during the campaign, but have been reticent to do in the OFA/governing period. ...Also, the core activists opening these emails are news consumers, this was the big political story, so choosing to send a message like this on such a big day - a day that was even intense and emotional for many supporters and African Americans - without any reference to it makes it feel like the campaign messages are coming from a different planet, rather than providing special information and a direct line to Obamaland. Therefore, if they don't want to acknowledge this or message around it in dialogue with the core supporters, then hold off on an email from Barack for a few days. It reminds me of when they tried fundraising off the health care compromise that removed the public option -- the day Markos declared the list "spam."

I think Ari is spot on. While the level of intensity around the 2012 election is nowhere as high as it was, say, in the fall of 2008, it is striking how far away from the actual moment this Obama email feels. Consider this video from progressive political activist and satirist Baratunde Thurston, which emotionally rips into Donald Trump for his shameless opportunism on the "birther issue." It's gotten 65,000 views in just one day, for a person just talking into the screen for seven minutes, a lifetime in the YouTube universe.

For years now, it's been obvious that OFA's approach to its base has been radically different from the days of the Obama campaign. Then, the campaign stoked supporters passions. Now, they try to temper them. Instead of firing people up in ways that might be uncontrollable, OFA sought to keep its base engaged with innocuous activities that shook few windows and rattled few walls. (I've heard, internally, that this was referred to as the "hamster wheel" approach.) The result is what I've called "The Obama Disconnect."

Ari, who wrote a detailed study of OFA's first year after the election that we published, adds, "The precedent in '08 was giving supporters some way to get Obama's back on this stuff - fight the smears website, calling into talk radio, all that stuff you remember - and this sets a different tone, whether it means to or not." It remains to be seen whether Obama's new campaign team will figure out how to find a new groove; today's off-key email from the President suggests they have some work ahead of them.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

More