03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Quick Quiz For "Organizing For America" Members

Is White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs truly this clueless, or is he just doing his job offering up the best possible spin for the White House and for his boss, President Obama? You decide. The following is an excerpt from a good article by Sam Stein at the Huffington Post today:

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged on Wednesday that progressive voters' disinterest and unhappiness was threatening what traditionally should be a blowout Senate election victory for Democrats in Massachusetts.

Briefing reporters in his office, Gibbs said he did not know "why some segment of political observers don't seem to be as motivated" going into the special election between Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican State Senator Scott Brown.

"There is a lot at stake," Gibbs stressed. "There is a lot at stake in the election for Massachusetts. There is a lot at stakes... as to whether or not we are going to go forward with ideas for economic recovery, creating a new foundation or are we going to go back to some of the policies that caused this type of economic devastation to take place."

Asked if that was an admission from the White House that the Democratic Party was having trouble rallying its base, Gibbs replied: "That was the premise of [the] question and I didn't dispute the premise."

Got that? The White House and the Democratic Party are having trouble rallying their base, and Gibbs doesn't know why progressive voters are disinterested and unhappy.

Coupled together with a rather in-depth look at the first year of Organizing For America (OFA) from Politico, it seems to me to be time to send the White House a message. Organizing For America is the organization which was born from Barack Obama's mailing list (more accurately: emailing list) of 13 million names which he amassed during his historic campaign.

The organization, Politico reports, is having some problems fitting in. This is because, early on, the decision was made to put it under the control of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Which leads to problems, when the core purpose of the DNC (electing Democrats to office) clashes with the core purpose of OFA (supporting Barack Obama's agenda). Snide quotes are reported from the party chairs of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, although many more state party leaders went on the record as being pleased with OFA. The obvious conclusion is that the party might be out of touch with The People in a few states, due to picking weak candidates to support, is not made within the article, however.

There's another obvious conclusion the article fails to make, as well. This is that OFA is having some enthusiasm problems of its own among its supporters, and that this lack of enthusiasm is not due to problems with the supporters, but rather problems with the leader of the movement, President Barack Obama himself.

Here's an excerpt from the Politico article, to show you what I mean (the entire article is fascinating, and well worth reading in its entirety).

Perhaps most troubling for the party, former Obama aides and other Democrats say, OFA simply hasn't been as effective as they had hoped. And as 2010 shapes up to be a difficult year for Democrats, the quiet hand-wringing among party officials over the organization's capacities has been matched by a new public hand-wringing among Democratic activists, with both struggling to diagnose the ills of the group that was meant to change the game.

"'Fixing health care' was a tough initial assignment for Organizing for America. It was both too diffuse and abstract," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the Democratic think tank NDN, who said he thought OFA "could get back on track" next year by focusing on the economy and the elections.

. . .

Susan Smith, an OFA activist from Tampa who is heavily involved in local Democratic politics, complained that OFA "from the beginning has not been really clear about what their mission is" on health care and other issues.

She said the group's stances on even key issues like the public option seemed to vacillate from one day to the next. "On one day the public option would be in their paperwork and on their website, and the next day people couldn't find it. Then all of sudden, it was back and it was No. 8 in an 11-point plan. It's just been very amorphous."

Now go back and re-read this excerpt, except that while you do, replace (as you read) the term: "OFA" with the name: "Obama," and see if it doesn't ring true. The Deputy Director of OFA, after all, is quoted in the same article as saying that OFA, "no matter where it was, was going to be identified with the president." OFA's web address is actually: So it's a fair measure, even by their own admission and example.

In other words, if Press Secretary Gibbs is looking for reasons why Democratic voters "don't seem to be as motivated" now as they were a year ago, he probably doesn't need to look much further than the Oval Office. The Politico article ends with:

The group's key challenge, however, is balancing that focus on the hard core with an effort to keep the larger membership of a list that has more than 10 million e-mail addresses interested. Stewart said that the e-mail open rate -- a key measure for online groups -- is "extremely healthy if you compare it to any other organization out there" but declined to go into detail. Critics have complained that the e-mails -- notable during the campaign for offering a straightforward take and, sometimes, breaking news, have grown trite and interspersed with gimmicks like online holiday cards.

Politico reported last month that the response to e-mail appeals had fallen by half over the course of the fall, while discontent among supporters over the details of health care reform grew.

With OFA's effectiveness in dispute, its clear test will come in this year's midterms. Stewart declined to discuss its plans in detail, but the group sent a survey to supporters asking them about their willingness to participate in two key activities: voter registration and working to ensure that Obama's 2008 voters -- many of whom stayed home in Virginia and New Jersey last year -- return to the polls in 2010.

"We are in a unique position to help reach out to some of the Democrats or folks who are supportive of the president who are apathetic right now," Stewart said.

So, my advice to OFA is not to send out surveys asking whether people are interested in trying to make their fellow Democrats enthusiastic about voting this year, but rather instead to identify the real source of their problems: why Barack Obama is not making voters as enthusiastic as he once did. Because unless you fix that problem, I think the other may be unsolvable.

So here is my suggestion for a survey to send out to that multimillion-name email list. A quick quiz for OFA supporters, as it were. Actually, to save time, I would suggest just choosing 1,000 names off the list at random, and send the quiz out to them. Because I would bet that even a random sampling of their supporters right now would be cause for deep concern at the White House. At the very least, it would tend to give Gibbs (and his boss) some sort of idea why they have lost so much support so quickly.

Here is my OFA opinion survey. OFA members, former OFA members, and anyone else -- feel free to post your responses in the comment section.


Organizing For America member survey

Below are three options. Choose one of them to show your support for the direction you believe President Barack Obama should take in the coming year. In other words, which of these three would make you more enthusiastic about the president, more enthusiastic about OFA as an organization, and more enthusiastic about getting out the vote for this year's congressional elections?

(A.) President Obama should redouble his efforts at changing the way Washington works by appealing to the Republicans in Congress for a more bipartisan approach to legislating. People are tired of the partisan mudslinging, and want to see Obama reach out across the political divide in order to do what needs to be done for the country.

(B.) President Obama should continue his largely-successful strategy of identifying the broad concepts of legislation he requests of Congress, and then allowing the Legislative Branch to write such legislation in its own fashion, as our Constitution lays out. At the end of this process, Obama can honestly say he got 90 percent of what he asked for and claim victory for his effort, even if the final bill doesn't contain every detail he wanted.

(C.) President Obama should choose a few key issues core Democrats want to see enacted, say exactly what he wants in specific legislative detail, and then lead the fight to pass such a bill -- even if he ultimately loses such a fight in Congress. Obama should choose a few issues from his campaign, use the "bully pulpit" of the Oval Office in a more effective manner than he has yet, and draw some clear lines in the sand. Obama should strongly stand up and say: "I will not sign a bill without these exact provisions -- anything less will be unacceptable." Rather than standing quietly on the sidelines while Congress debates, Obama should make it crystal clear where he stands, and be a fierce advocate for his position -- even if he winds up losing such a political fight with conservatives in his own party. "Change we can believe in" is simply not going to happen without picking a few big political fights -- with Wall Street, for example.


I bet that 1,000 random OFA members, responding to such a survey, might just open Gibbs' eyes a fraction, and give the White House some valuable data on the subject of why Democratic voters (especially the "base" represented by OFA members) are feeling so disillusioned, apathetic, and downright unenthusiastic about donating their time or money to the Democratic Party in this year's elections.

Any OFA members out there? Anyone who volunteered during the Obama campaign? What are your thoughts?


[Note: While posting in the comments is fun, you can perhaps also have your voice heard by those who really matter in this situation. I heartily encourage everyone to copy the text of their comment and send it to either the Democratic National Committee or directly to the White House itself. The OFA web contact page, if you don't click "sign up to be a volunteer," just redirects you to the White House comment page anyway. Maybe they'll listen, in time for it to do some good.]

[Full Disclosure: I do not join political organizations as a general journalistic rule, and have never been a member of OFA, or the campaign organization which preceded its formation. I have, however, been registered as a Democratic voter ever since California scrapped their open primary system, so that I am able to vote in Democratic primary elections.]


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