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Obama's Orphans: Down 'n Out on K Street

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Message Tobin Brogunier
Recently some pundits have implied Obama doesn't want to create a Populist progressive movement for fear he can't control it. If this is true -- which seems unlikely -- there is a much more important question that lies beneath: Does Obama or any other party Democrat really have any viable option OTHER than building a popular movement? The answer, if we can shed our beltway myopia that makes us second guess every political manuever for a second, is flat out NO.

Building a popular movement on the Left isn't optional; it is necessary. Without popular support, Democrats, Obama, the Left and millions of perfectly reasonable unaffiliated regular people all over the US will continue to be held hostage by the Right Wing's status quo non-agenda. Among the Left, we are in agreement with ourselves. Therefore, no more time needs to be spent agreeing with ourselves. We need to wrap up the comfortable indulgence of preaching to the choir and go out to the places that are uncomfortable with a message crafted to work in hostile environments. The fight is out there, in America. If we can't spread our message in a Popular movement, we will continue to be blocked by populist-fueled Right Wing obstructionism. America as a country will continue to go nowhere, continue to not lead the world and generally continue to be a blight instead of the light it should rightfully be.

We have the tools, the money and the people to create a popular movement. The only thing required is the force of will from party leaders and President Obama. We are all waiting for the "Green Light" from the party money and leaders and, until we get one, not only will President Obama and the Democrats on Capital Hill be forced to capitulate to the Right on the most trivial matters -- or "childish things" as Mr. Obama so eloquently said -- but the best messengers in a generation of progressive political organizers and communicators will continue to waste away on the sidelines of the culture war, marginalized foot soldiers of Obama's popular Presidential campaign, left to be forever what they are today...Obama's Orphans.

Last January, for 70 minutes, President Obama went before an American public programmed by hours, days and years of Republican propaganda, to yet again eloquently explain his position for investing in the United States of America. Seventy minutes of prime-time television is a great way to send a message: Days, months and years of uncontested, free, easy to access and slickly produced talk radio is a much better way to win the hearts and minds of intelligent people. Yet, despite the proven effectiveness of this medium, the Democratic establishment still refuses to go out and compete.

Many times I've heard seasoned Liberals call talk radio "distasteful," yet what kind of "taste" is required to allow your party to be smeared by Right Wing propaganda day after day, year after year? How "tasteful" is it to allow lies to resonate indefinitely, uncontested, in the ears of highly active voters? I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I hope to never develop this kind of "taste." I consider it cowardice in the face of battle.

At the end of January, the lone gunman in this culture war, Air America, lay down the sword and accepted that you can plant a seed, you can water it a little, and you can even sprout it -- but when it's the only little seedling out there getting pummeled by the elements without enough water (read: money) or sun (read: exposure), eventually it will shrivel up, and there are not four, or 40, seedlings trying to take its place. There is the barren desert of Liberal silence refusing to communicate with tens of millions of daily radio listeners.

This leads me to my one pressing, unanswered question for President Obama, one question I have had sincebefore he took office: Why is it that the40 top organizers under the age of 40 who got Mr. Obama elected haven't been given, minimum, one million dollars each to launch whatever they feel like launching?

With this notable exception, I have been in awe of Obama's media strategy. He even managed to make the New York Times his enemy at one point, winning countless Republican votes in the process. So what I don't understand is how a man with this magnitude of understanding, with the best strategy I have ever witnessed in the game of politics and media, failed to realize he needed to send the best team of Liberal messengers assembled in40 years for the Democrats out to the battlefield he needs to compete in? As for what the40 do -- who cares? Just as long as they are funded.

It has to be better than nothing, and I don't suppose coordinating among themselves to be effective would be too hard: They did manage to work together to get a black man elected President of the United States.

And what about the money? Forty million. Forty million might be a legal defense fund for Bill Clinton, back when forty million really meant something. Forty million is exactly 1/17,500th of the $700-billion-dollar bank bailout. The military loses $40 million dollars every day in loose change. But what would $40 million in the hands of the best political organizers in a generation accomplish? You have no idea, because the greatest Populist movement of a generation got orphaned when Obama became President.

Obama ceased to be our movement's figurehead the minute he became leader of the corporate world. Did we expect he would become the leader of a different world? A different non-corporate country of our hippie dreams? Maybe some did, but I didn't. I highly doubt his "Top Forty" expected a different world to suddenly appear either.

But I did expect Obama would be smarter about his movement. If it were to succeed, the younger generation would have to be trusted and funded. Not doing this has been a major failing of the Democratic establishment for going on20 years. Party leaders reared in the "successes-on-the-cheap" 60's simply don't understand how much money and persistent messaging it takes to win hearts and minds in this country right now. Political success ain't cheap no more. This is 2010 America: You want it, you pay. You find spending gobs of money to do so "distasteful," you lose.

But where did the best and brightest go? News flash -- your top organizers are figuring out how to make ends meet, like everyone one else.

Your young guns are "Down 'n Out" on K Street, shopping themselves around. I have talked with several organizers who confirm this employment status. We are in debt. Cars must be insured, bought and fixed. A college debt of $80Kmust be serviced -- not optional. Computers and smart phones must be bought and hundreds of dollars inmonthly bills must be paid. DSL service must be purchased. ISPs must be paid. Increasingly expensive food must be eaten. Health insurance to say..."pricey endless cash suck"? Rent is high. And other things cost money. Yes -- actual dollars -- and more of them than ever. We don't have time to get on the bus for the protest in Alabama; our time is owned by high debt, expensive cost of living and ever shifting job prospects. Denying the reality of the massive cost of living in America alienates party youth from its leaders and poor people from the Left. Who wants to jump on board the denial mobile?

Assuming the Democratic party is adult enough to own up to actually having the money at its disposal, what to do with these millions of dollars? You make sure the most effective people are getting lots of money, which is why Obama's campaign team is a no-brainer for being very well funded. For his top internet campaign ministers and messaging strategists, wads of donor cash must be found to launch, piece by piece, the Populist movement of the Left which must be erected to combat Rush Limbaugh and his air-wave hogging compadres from Coast to Coast.

What is cash to the President of the United States? How does a man like Obama get $40 million to seed40 promising Liberals toanswerthe intellectual plague that is Right Wing talk radio? He does it by *not* picking up the phone and *not* telling the Democratic establishment that Obama needs some gasoline to throw on the Liberal fire that got him elected? No, he can do it, or he can just have Rahm to do it. Who cares how it's done? It just cannot be that hard to find $40 million, or a whole lot more, in DC or New York or Boston or California (all of it) or Soros or Buffett or whatever!

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Trained in documentary photojournalism, Tobin is the publisher of and an outspoken advocate for citizen strategy living in Athens, Georgia. Creditland Magazine is a group of writers and editors who interview US citizens about personal (more...)
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