Barack Obama has launched a new digital campaign that aims to harness the massive database of supporters’ emails he amassed over two presidential elections and use it to propel the ambitious agenda for his second term in office.
Organizing for America, the digitally-savvy re-election campaign that saw Obama returned to the White House in November, has been recast as Organizing for Action and redirected to generate popular backing for the president’s substantial legislative programme. Announcing the re-branding of the network, Obama predicted that it would become “an unparalleled force in American politics – it will work to turn our shared values into legislative action”.
Whether or not such grandiose aspirations can be realised in practice will become clear over the next four years. The network was boosted by a digital tool kit called Dashboard which does seem to have been a significant factor behind Obama’s comfortable victory over Mitt Romney on 6 November.
The tool kit was custom-built for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. It digitally linked data on millions of American voters, including their email addresses, through Dashboard as well as through social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, to an army of staff and volunteers knocking on doors in the key swing states.
That ability to connect supporters with political organisers online will now be used to underpin the president’s ambitions in the White House. He will use it to try to undercut opposition from Republicans in Congress and from hostile lobby groups as he tries to drive through a packed legislative programme that includes gun control, comprehensive immigration reform, measures to combat climate change and negotiations over the fiscal cliff.
In a video accompanying the launch, Michelle Obama said that Organizing for Action represented “the next phase of our movement for change. We got millions of Americans out to vote in this last election but all that hard work was about more than one election – we want to finish what we started.”
Organizing for Action will be headed by Jon Carson, a former White House environmental adviser who was national field director of Obama’s first presidential election campaign, in 2008. Carson said the new-look OFA would be “volunteer-led” and guided by core principles of “respect, empower, include”.
As Carson’s statement attests, there is no shortage of jargon and rhetoric in the new digital push. But at its heart is a revolutionary concept: that campaigning is not confined to the presidential race every four years, but is a permanent state of being that is sustained throughout the four years of a president’s term.
Obama is clearly hoping that the power of the network might help to overcome some of the gridlock in a deeply divided Washington. The first test of that will be the bruising fight ahead with the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, that has sworn to oppose Obama’s efforts to curb gun violence through a smorgasbord of executive orders and legislative reforms.
In his speech announcing his proposals on Wednesday, Obama was explicit about his intentions to mobilise outside popular support as a means of buffering him for the battle ahead.
“I will put everything I’ve got into this, but I tell you the only way we can change is if the American people demand it,” he said.
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