09/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama: The Most Party-Focused Candidate Ever?

An unassuming building at 430 South Capitol Street, in a forlorn corner between the Capitol and a highway overpass, is the home address of the Democratic Party. But though mail still gets delivered to the Washington, D.C., address, many of the Democratic National Committee's employees--the men and women who make up the party's central infrastructure--are no longer around to receive it. They are in Chicago, where Barack Obama moved them after he captured the Democratic Party's nomination.

It was a peculiar decision for Obama, who had built his campaign, and even his political identity, around an eloquently stated, post-partisan revulsion with the divisiveness of modern party politics. Following the strategy of "outsider" candidates before him, Obama set his headquarters outside the District in order to create distance, both physical and perceptual, between himself and the consultants, interest groups, party hacks, and congressional busybodies who populate the nation's capital.

The effort was so successful that some feared the Obama phenomenon--the millions of young people passionate about his campaign, the thousands who have lined roadsides just to wave at the Illinois senator's motorcade--had become a force unto itself, indifferent to the fortunes of the traditional Democratic Party, unbound by a commitment to progressive ideology, and wholly dependent on the character of Barack Obama. As blogger Matt Stoller writes on OpenLeft.com, "Power and money in the Democratic Party is being centralized around a key iconic figure. [Obama] is consolidating power within the party."

This was a new critique of Obama: not that he was beyond parties but that he had personalized them. That rather than building the Democratic Party, he was building an Obama Party, with all the good and bad that that centralization entailed. Though some were nervous when Obama sent the moving trucks to South Capitol Street, further tightening his hold over the party apparatus, the relocation neatly fit the broader, and rather unexpected, reality of this campaign: For all the talk of post-partisan "unity," Barack Obama has been proving himself the most party-focused presidential candidate in recent history--possibly ever. Paradoxically, although Obama's success has been more dependent on personal charisma than any recent nominee's has, he's been leveraging that charisma to build a broader Democratic infrastructure less dependent on the presidential nominee.

Read more on The American Prospect

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