What Should Obama Do For Us?
What can we get from the Obama Administration in exchange for our money and our work on his campaign? There is no doubt we will vote for Obama. Many of us will do more, contribute money, do phones, door-to-door and all the other nuts and bolts of an election. But what are we going to get for it? We have something to offer, our enthusiasm and our work. They need to put something on the table to earn it.
[This is the great post masaccio originally posted to Oxdown Gazette–before we delayed the start of it. I wanted to publish it here to further the great discussion masaccio started. -ew]
[And was so inspiring we wanted fdl pups to see it too. Welcome, masaccio! -eg]
What can we get from an Obama Administration in exchange for our money and our work on his campaign?
There is no doubt we will vote for Obama. Many of us will do more, contribute money, do phones, door-to-door and all the other nuts and bolts of an election. Many of us were stirred into action by Jane and Christy, and without them would never have thought of doing this stuff.
But what are we going to get for it? Right now, the pols and consultants think we will work because we are afraid that four more years of McBush will ruin the country. They don’t expect to have to do anything for us in exchange. They think Obama can run to the mushy middle, and we will hold our noses and work hard like we always do. In the past, the Democrats have been able to take advantage of the fact that on most of the issues, their views are close enough to ours that we’ll just work for them, and be happy with whatever we get. Some of us will be active because of health care, or ending the war, or the Supreme Court, or some other specific issue, and that will seem like enough to motivate us; we’ll provide our services and our money, and once in office, they pat us on the head and say “aren’t those bloggers cute”.
This election is different. For the first time, it isn’t the candidate, party pols, rich business contributors or consultants who are leading us. Our leaders come from our own ranks. Each of us votes with our clicks and our dollars for those we think express our views, those we select to teach us about issues, and those whose sense of humor resonates best. The issues we care about grew organically from our own efforts, not some pointless national poll, tilted by the views of too many ill-informed potential voters, but in the robust give and take of post and comment. It manifests itself in phone calls, e-mails and letters, contributions of money, and all the rest of the efforts we saw in the FISA battle.
In this election for the very first time, the hard-core political operatives know a large number of activists are reading lefty blogs, and are getting fired up, not by their efforts or the candidate, or press releases with pallid promises on traditional Democratic Party issues, but by our own issues. Even the mainstream media recognizes this. Glenn Greenwald and our own Jane Hamsher are now worthy of being quoted.
Activists have never made demands in the past. In fact, we have never had the ability to make demands. We have never had a voice. Now we do. If the netroots can come together on a single demand, we can make it stick.
We offer our enthusiasm, our money, and our work. They need to put something on the table to earn it. Remember, we can put our efforts into other parts of the campaign for what we want: working for more and better democrats at every level. Many commenters here and at firedoglake have made it clear they think this is a better use of our efforts anyway. You want us working for Obama? Give us something. Something real, and something we select.
If you don’t, the blogs will say so out loud, and encourage every one of their readers to move to the other part of this election: more and better democrats. This is a real threat. We have the template for that here at FDL, many other sites. We want legislators who will be responsive to us. We know that many of the democrats we elect, like Donna Edwards, will listen to us, even if we aren’t in their district. That will be a better outcome than helping Obama with no return. It won’t be perfect, many of us will work for Obama, but there will be a noticeable difference.
And remember this. A big chunk of the netroots is angry because of the way HRC was treated. Another big chunk of us are angry because of the cavalier way Obama dealt with women’s right to control their own bodies. And another big chunk are angry about FISA. Cass Sunstein’s comments have angered more than they might guess. If he wants a big victory, he needs all of us.
How do we get this to work?
Emptywheel posted here a workshop on lessons learned from the FISA fight, and the commenters joined in. Here is a list of ideas that will serve as action points focused on offense rather than defense
1. Identify the real terms of debate. EW
2. Recognize when leadership begins to negotiate. EW
3. Profile all the key players. EW
4. Open up better lines of communication with our allies in the media. wigwam @ 9
5. Better counter-messaging when we draw fire, while holding our own points. EW in text and @ 11
6. Transparency and coordination in decisions about strategy. maryb2004 @ 28
7. Start earlier. MadDog @ 38
8. Build a broad based coalition earlier. klynn @ 89
9. And the money: Ron1 talks intelligently about money in several comments.
These ideas are the nucleus for an action plan. We find out who we need to influence, and gather information about them. This makes it easier to figure our how to make our demands work. We have a backup plan, our minimum demand, in case we have to negotiate off our initial position. We make sure the people doing the negotiating are competent. We work on a media strategy to make our views open to the nation. We start now. We seek allies. The money follows along in due course.
Earlofhuntington made a strong point that the blogosphere isn’t like the groups traditional politicians are used to dealing with. We are fractious and demanding, and it is not easy to hold us accountable. We need to figure out how to be more like traditional bargaining partners. This means being accountable, reliable, and responsible.
What do we demand?
I want to call special attention to maryb2004’s view that the decision on what to demand must be as transparent as possible. Moveon polled its members on the endorsement of Obama, and regularly seeks input from members. We can’t do that, and I don’t think that kind of thing works well anyway. But if there is an open and robust discussion on the front pages of lots of sites, we can learn from comments if we are in the wrong place with a particular demand and alter it to one that resonates with more people. Only then will we be in a position to make a demand we can enforce.
We have to act responsibly. There is no point in making demands that relate to existing campaign issues, like ending the war, health care, or taxes. Instead, we pick something currently off the radar for the general election. It has to be something we can get that won’t throw the general campaign off balance. If we demanded and got something really splashy, it might well backfire.
That said, there are many issues that we deeply care about. Here is a starter list: FISA reform; Patriot Act changes; Input on selection of the Attorney General; Appointment of some of our people to responsible positions in the new administration. This list can grow.
An Example: Accountability
I really care about accountability. I think lack of accountability is at the root of the damage this administration and its cronies have inflicted on us for the past seven years. It has the advantage that it can be publicly announced, without upsetting the general campaign. Obama has already promised to do something vague on the issue, although this was recently undercut by Cass Sunstein.
Here is the first step: we prepare a demand letter; not to send, but to serve as a discussion paper. Here’s how it might look.
1. We want accountability for specific issues:
c. the lies that led us into war
d. corruption in the Department of Justice
e. politicization at all other departments
2. If Bush pardons people, we want an independent truth and reconciliation commission with subpoena power and the power to examine witnesses in public. We don’t want whitewash artists like Lee Hamilton or Warren Christopher on such a commission but people with the courage to take us where the truth leads. We want input into selection of the staff. We want a written report. And we want Obama to speak about the report publicly, naming names and publicly accusing people of the evil they have done in our name.
3. If Bush doesn’t pardon people, we want a new unit of the AG set up immediately to work on criminal prosecutions. We want either prosecutions or a report, and a report that Obama will stand behind.
4. We want public release of all of the torture opinions including those of Judge Bybee, John Yoo, and Stephen Bradbury, and of all related files.
5. We want an end to stalling on FOIA requests and Congressional staff inquiries.
The letter has to be clear and pointed. It has to state our demand precisely. And it has to be something we are willing to enforce. Once the terms are in place, we have to deliver, so they will. The letter creates public accountability both ways.
I am sick of seeing my money and work go for nothing. I am disgusted that the few progressive issues we get moving are stalled and crushed by Steny Hoyer and the Blue Dogs. I am stunned that the Congress has let this sleazy administration have its way on issue after issue, ignoring the will of the people who elected them.
Can we have accountability in an Obama presidency? Yes we can! But only if we force the issue.