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Obama's Online Health Care Drive: Epic Fail?

BY Ari Melber | Tuesday, May 12 2009

OFA launched a new email and petition drive on Tuesday afternoon, ratcheting up pressure on Congress to pass the President's health care plan. Huffington Post's Nico Pitney reports on the move's political significance:

A first shot, of sorts, is being fired in the Obama-era battle for health care reform. Organizing for America, President Obama's political arm, is blasting out an email to its massive list of supporters urging them to join an "Organizing for Health Care" campaign.

A DNC official says the message is significant because it is "the first email" that is "going out from the OFA and DNC lists organizing for health care." The declaration drive will culminate, the official added, in a supporter list that organizers "can deliver to members of Congress." But there are some problems here.

It is early, but so far, these OFA legislative "organizing" efforts run the risk of being boring, vague and redundant.

The drive is boring and thus more likely to falter, as Zephyr Teachout wrote in this space, because the goals are predictably top-down (support the President's agenda) and somewhat propagandistic (because he said so).

Then, click through your inbox and you'll find the new petition is almost comically vague. The three goals are: Reduce cost; Provide choice; and Ensure affordable care for all. It is hard to see any need to demonstrate official public support for those general principles.

Finally, asking millions of Obama's strongest supporters to simply sign petitions, regardless of their location, ambition and ability, is surely redundant and probably wasteful.

Take an activist in a Democratic House district in a Blue state -- why should she be pressuring Congress if her representatives are already backing Obama's plan? (If anything, those members would be willing to go further towards single-payer.) A blanket national petition drive is redundant for many supporters, and it fails to target people in the areas where more visible pressure is desperately needed. Imagine, for example, if OFA specifically rallied its Republican and independent voters in the 37 G.O.P. districts that Obama won last year -- areas that endorsed his platform but are still represented by Republican incumbents. Imagine a Pennsylvania-focused campaign to make health care a bigger issue for Arlen Specter -- or imagine if OFA actually solicited grassroots views from local Obama supporters before the President endorsed the ex-Republican's candidacy. You get the idea.

OFA's current organizing emphasis is at least inefficient, even on its own top-down terms. (The health care experiments on the government side during the transition period, to be fair, were more bottom-up.) And judged against broader values, it obviously fails to tap the ambition, ability, sophistication and creativity that bubbled up through more open networks during Obama's campaign.

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Ari Melber last wrote about Organizing for America in the article "Obama for America 2.0?"

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