Since the battle on the Obama budget began a few weeks ago, the national media’s attention has moved quickly from bank bailouts to Afghanistan to the Big Three automakers.
Since the battle on the Obama budget began a few weeks ago, the national media’s attention has moved quickly from bank bailouts to Afghanistan to the Big Three automakers. But the president’s budget proposal still represents the blueprint for his administration, which is why the White House chose this as the issue with which to test drive the new Organizing for America grassroots movement.The experiment they’ve undertaken—to attempt to transfer the Obama campaign’s online supporter network to advocacy on behalf of the president’s policy agenda—is a fascinating one. Because governance contains a lot more gray area than electioneering (and a lot less excitement), it’s always been difficult to convince campaign volunteers to stay involved after the confetti and balloons from the victory party have been swept away. But David Plouffe’s grassroots juggernaut exhibited such a depth of commitment throughout the campaign that Obama’s political team has calculated that their passion can be redeployed to build political support for budget passage.Set aside for a moment whether an extraordinarily complex and largely arcane fiscal document provides the appropriate clarity and motivation for the new organization’s first effort. What seems to be a bigger challenge for Obama’s organizers is that there obstacles on this front are as much within the Democratic Party as among Republicans. While the debate has already started in earnest about whether the president’s other allies should be targeting advertisements at conservative Democrats, the volunteer mobilization effort seems to be off to a fairly low-key start. The headline in this McClatchy Newspapers story—“Congress isn’t feeling much heat from Obama’s ‘army’”—tells the story. Organizing for America may ultimately transform the way grassroots democracy is practiced in this country. But for a subject as sprawling and complicated as the federal budget, lobbying and targeting television ads seem to be having more of an impact.As these grassroots efforts move forward, it’s worth considering what Organizing for America’s ultimate objective really is. Are they actually trying to influence members of Congress with phone calls and emails? Or are they just trying to give their supporters something to do?Dan Schnur is the Director of the Jesse M. Unruh of Politics at the University of Southern California. He has previously served as Director of Communications for former California Governor Pete Wilson and the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain.