Advancing the President's agenda

by: Adam Bink

Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 14:00


Natasha's post last night on the DNC/OFA throwing pro-choice advocates and women everywhere under the bus got me thinking about the role of those organizations in general, and the Administration's choices of late.

There is a general belief, both in the Village and even among some people I know in progressive politics, that the DNC's role is to expand Democratic majorities and that's it. For all my criticism of OFA's role in Maine, I've had a few people say to me they shouldn't get involved in ballot fights. It's a D vs. R apparatus and that's that.

But here's OFA director Mitch Stewart this week:

Our number one mission is to support the president's agenda.

And DNC spokesperson Hari Sevugan:

OFA's primary focus is to advance the president's agenda. If you advance the president's agenda that's going to translate politically and help Democrats throughout the country. And frankly keeping people engaged on the issues in an off year is going to translate in a mid-term year. They are going to continue to be engaged.

So that expands the definition. What does that mean in terms of OFA's actions of late? Well, they didn't lift a finger to help in Maine- even to the point of diverting resources to New Jersey. They knew about the Stupak amendment for quite awhile and didn't lift a finger. But Obama (if tepidly) came out against Question 1 in Maine and against the Stupak amendment, even pledging to work to remove it in conference. This is the President's agenda. And Sevugan said winning these fights helps Democrats around the country. And that keeping people engaged on the issues- and certainly, choice is an "issue"- helps.

So my question is, why isn't OFA doing its job? I realize OFA is an arm of the DNC. But should it exist to re-elect Democrats, or to actually carry out what Stewart and Sevugan say it should?

There are a number of arguments I've heard against OFA getting involved. One is that OFA should only work on issues that "everyone" agrees on. Another is that pressuring members violates the DNC's core mission of electing Democrats, because having a bunch of people call their members' office and ask the intern to tell the member to vote a certain way will somehow cause them to lose their re-election. Another is that if you "make aware" Obama supporters (also known as citizen engagement) in, say, John Tanner's district that he might suck on women's reproductive health, you'll rile them up and Tanner might lose Democratic votes for re-election, which violates the core mission of the DNC. None of these arguments are very persuasive. OFA could have even done a bland, list-wide "call your member and ask him/her to x". That way you don't name someone specifically, and you can reason that you're targeting all members of Congress because it's such a critical issue, not just Democrats.

The strongest argument I've heard is that OFA pressuring Democrats will cause congressional Democrats to pick up the phone and scream at Obama and screw him, and us, on other legislation. Relationships matter. Okay. But Obama is involved in party primaries, supporting Sens. Bennet, Gillibrand (should she have one), and Specter. His administration is pushing Gov. Paterson to bow out of a re-election bid. George W. Bush got involved in supporting Specter in 2004 and Chafee in 2006 in their respective primaries. Rahm himself got involved in congressional primaries in 2006, and has a reputation for working members hard for votes, engaging allies to pressure them, and so forth. So what's the difference between these actions and asking activists to make phone calls to advance your agenda? Both can damage relationships, both have rewards. If Obama's picks lose, those people can screw him. In this case, the reward is protecting women's reproductive freedom and advancing health care reform. So how come Obama takes a risk by siding with Senate and gubernatorial candidates, but remains silent on core issues of the Party?

In politics, relationships do matter, and I consider that in my own work. But the argument in terms of that here just doesn't hold water. Moreover, we only have a short window in which to enact real progressive change, and I think, within reason and wherever possible, the President should use all available tools to obtain that change and be our "fierce advocate". Please, Mr. President, include OFA among those tools.

Adam Bink :: Advancing the President's agenda

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They ignore history (4.00 / 6)
This part:

"OFA's primary focus is to advance the president's agenda. If you advance the president's agenda that's going to translate politically and help Democrats throughout the country. "

It ignores the lesson of the Clinton years. The President's interests do not always equal the Democratic Party's interest, or, for that matter, the interest of progressives. These are three separate interests, which often may partially overlap, but are not the same things.  


Organizing for America appears to be a failure (4.00 / 3)
From everything I have read, OFA is a failure (See the October 30, 2009 article entitled Disorganized in the New Republic.)

The reasons why are best articulated by Kos in his recent article in the Huffington Post following Democratic setbacks in the recent elections:

"There will be much number-crunching tomorrow, but preliminary numbers (at least in Virginia) show that GOP turnout remained the same as last year, but Democratic turnout collapsed. This is a base problem, and this is what Democrats better take from tonight:

  1. If you abandon Democratic principles in a bid for unnecessary "bipartisanship", you will lose votes.

  2. If you water down reform in favor of Blue Dogs and their corporate benefactors, you will lose votes.

  3. If you forget why you were elected -- health care, financial services, energy policy and immigration reform -- you will lose votes.

Tonight proved conclusively that we're not going to turn out just because you have a (D) next to your name, or because Obama tells us to. We'll turn out if we feel it's worth our time and effort to vote, and we'll work hard to make sure others turn out if you inspire us with bold and decisive action.

The choice is yours. Give us a reason to vote for you, or we sit home. And you aren't going to make up the margins with conservative voters. They already know exactly who they're voting for, and it ain't you."


Exit polls show that the young, social networking Millennial voters who gave Obama his victory margin didn't show up to vote last week.

Since they comprise the majority of the voters in OFA's 13 million voter database, you get a sense of what a losing battle Obama is going to be fighting to get their support for his anti-public legislation now that he has thrown his support behind the corporate fat cats who put their feet on the brakes of any pro-public legislation.

Nancy Bordier is the author of Re-Inventing Democracy: How U.S. Voters Can Get Control of Government and Restore Popular Sovereignty in America. The book can be read free online by clicking here.  


Sometimes you just have to take people at their word. (4.00 / 7)
When they say "Our number one mission is to support the president's agenda," what it means is "all these things we've been doing are the president's agenda.

The agenda of Obama, and OFA, is not the same as ours. We need to recognize this, and deal with it, and the sooner the better.

Montani semper liberi


yes - the stuff that is louder than words (4.00 / 2)
i think that the two chunks in the beginning here are backwards. Obama did - tepidly - come out against bad things and for good things, but his organizations did very little about it.  

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

[ Parent ]
The Stupak amendment is DOA (0.00 / 0)
There will not be sixty Senate votes to pass health insurance reform. Chasing Lieberman out of the caucus won't change that. We need to show that we tried to get everyone on board but they wouldn't play ball. Then we go to reconciliation. The Stupak amendment can't pass through reconciliation because it's not a budget issue, so it will have to be dropped.  

why show we tried and let time pass? (4.00 / 1)


[ Parent ]
Compromise (4.00 / 3)
The Democratic establishment compromised with the position of supporting civil unions but not gay marriage.  Personally, I thought is was an okay compromise at the time, a good first step.

But the issue got way ahead of them.  In a very short period of time we won the civil union debate and proceeded with the next step.  Now the civil union compromise is basically the Republican position (whether they admit it or not) and the Democrats haven't gotten it through their heads they need to take the next step.  It would not shock me if we actually have to win one of these ballot battles before the establishment accepts the new reality.


Republicans support civil unions? (0.00 / 0)
This is news to me.

[ Parent ]
Defacto (4.00 / 1)
They sometimes use the existence of civil unions as justification of denying marriage.  Also, they aren't really pushing against civil unions any more, saving their energy for marriage.

Moving goalposts.


[ Parent ]
OFA is useless and pointless (4.00 / 2)
I never understood what was the point in having OFA, other than being a vehicle for Obama fanatics, who can already donate money to the DNC if their mission in life is to serve Obama's every whim.

Liberals/progressives should all unite behind one or two liberal organizations, like the PCCC or DFA, instead of scattering their resources and efforts every which way.  Same goes for campaigns to support.


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