On June 11, 2011 I went to the Democratic Party of Oak Park Grassroots Planning Session at the Oak Park Public Library. It was run by OFA, Mr. Obama’s campaign organization. It was open to the public, so I walked in, to check it out. It was an interesting gathering. Many people from local government were there. There were also many people who were experienced activists who travelled recently to Wisconsin, and who were working for Mr. Obama in other states during the 2012 campaign. Oak Park’s activist community is to the Midwestern Democrat Party what India was to the Victorian Empire, a bottomless source of manpower that pays for itself and can be used for campaigns around the region. It was expressly stated at the meeting that Illinois is a source of manpower for other battleground states in the region. This is one more cost to Republicans of having declined so far in Illinois.
The speakers seemed to have trouble describing themselves. They never used the L word, so I guess they are not liberals anymore. Oddly, the word Progressive was not used as a regular thing, either. I thought Progressive was the new orthodox label. There were several awkward locutions, such as “people who want to bring about change” and “people committed to change.” I suppose the idea is to keep the idea of “change” in the forefront.
For these folks, the 2012 campaign is now on, full blast. It was impressive for an outsider to see the size and energy of the group gathered on a Saturday 17 months before the election.
The had been energized by several things. One major factor was the protests in Wisconsin, and many had personally participated. They saw Walker as a serious enemy, and they saw him and his activities as evidence of the wealth, power, organization and pure malice of their enemies. Another was alarm that Mr. Obama’s reelection is going to be a hard fight.
As a conservative Republican, it was interesting to see how my side is perceived from across No Mans’ Land. The power and unmitigated evil of the forces they are opposing is taken as fact. As far as the activist Democrats are concerned, they are up against something vast and terrible and cunning and well organized and well funded. I have personally seen no evidence that any of this is true, but they clearly believe it. A special bête noire is Fox News, which came up several times. Someone commented that Fox News and the Republicans have somehow “defined the issues” and are misleading people into disliking the President. There were also comments that the Republicans are “holding the economy hostage” and want to see the economy ruined so they can take power. The power of Fox News and of the Republicans to control the mind of the American people and attempt to destroy the place is apparently far beyond what I naively imagine it to be.
I will be told “they all do it” when it comes to demonizing the opposition. But they don’t. I have spent my entire life with and among Conservatives. The presumption of evil is simply not remotely the same. I think this is because to people on the Left, politics is often a substitute for religion. Being against them politically is necessarily evil. Their political commitments have the strength of religious commitments. Conservatives usually have other things filling the religion box, such as religion, or other things than politics. So the ardor is not the same, and the animosity is not the same. This does help motivate the many Democrats and it is a major source of strength for them.
The main event was a presentation by a gentleman from OFA, talking about the Obama campaign, and what could be done to make it a success. He noted that there are hundreds of similar grass roots meetings going on across the country. The scale of the organizational effort was impressive. However, the content was weak. And that is not just because I am in opposition to Mr. Obama myself. The speaker noted that people working to get the vote out for Mr. Obama should focus on his achievements in office. He noted that Mr. Obama was “no longer the shiny penny,” and now had to “run on his accomplishments” and his “vision for future.”
The speaker had a slide with about a dozen accomplishments. Oddly, he did not spend much time on it. He specifically mentioned only two: The Affordable Care Act, which he said was Mr. Obama’s “signature accomplishment.” He also mentioned repealing DADT — “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I suppose this was because Oak Park is considered a community that is particularly concerned with gay issues, and Mr. Obama is perceived as disappointing on these issues by many activists. But it is not an issue that reaches beyond the base, and it is not an issue that is in most people’s minds in a deep recession.
The speaker then said that it was necessary to focus on the future, and such items as “green energy jobs.” “education,” “building infrastructure,” “transparency” and “responsibility about the debt.” This last one was, I believe, understood to mean tax increases. He also spoke about the need to register new voters, and identified the key constituencies as African Americans, Latinos and young people. This is the same as it was in 2008. Latinos may be somewhat harder, and young people substantially harder this time around.
The presentation made, I believe, no reference to jobs, and did not contain the word “jobs.” None of the slides had the word “jobs.”
The first six questions from this group of activist Democrats group all had the word “jobs.” One said Mr. Obama had to put “jobs be front and center.” Another said he had to “get the jobs to get the tax revenue.” Another said that they need to focus on the “success of the stimulus” and be sure to mention “jobs saved not just created.” One older guy wanted to talk about New Deal style infrastructure projects to create jobs, and he got pushback from a younger, NPRish SWPLish guy who said that the point was to make any new infrastructure be “green.”
Generally, as people who are interested in getting votes, the participants at this meeting are realists about what it is going to take to motivate voters to get out and support Mr. Obama. I respect their practicality and realism, without regard to ideological differences.
At this point I was getting into the spirit of the thing, so I raised my hand. I got called on. I said, words to this effect: “you have here a room full of Democrats who are willing to come out on a Saturday to help organize and work for Mr. Obama. They want to help, but they need some answers. Your presentation did not contain the word ‘jobs’ but the first six questions from the group had the word jobs. Will you be able to give people a short, simple statement about what Mr. Obama is going to do about jobs?” I had a lot of nodding heads as I asked this question. I quite literally could not understand the response. I wrote “blather” in my notes, and I was told that there will be “messaging” prepared on that. They need to work on this, obviously.
The issue of jobs and the economy came out even more strongly in the breakout session. The people who have volunteered to sell Mr. Obama to the voters understand that they have a steep hill to climb unless the economy greatly improves.
One bright ray of sunlight for this group is Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. Mr. Ryan’s name came up more often than any other. Mr. Ryan’s name was the only thing that could be counted on to raise a smile. They believe his proposal is a massive blunder, in effect disclosing the utter evil of the GOP for all to see. The belief is apparently that the focus of the campaign should be simply that the Republicans have admitted that they want to destroy Medicare, to quite literally kill grandma and grandpa so the rich can avoid tax increases, and that this admission will mobilize a massive groundswell of support for Mr. Obama. The New York congressional race was a source of genuine joy, seeming to confirm this assessment. No irony. These folks believe it will be a tough campaign, but that Paul Ryan has probably handed a victory to them. Maybe so. I have no reason to think the Oak Park group is unusual in this perception, and whatever my ideological differences, these are people who are interested in practical politics and seem to be well grounded in reality about motivating voters.
To reduce the whole event to a slogan: The GOP will say “jobs” and the Dems will say “Medicare” and the Dems will win.
The people at the meeting were generally nice, sincere and concerned about the direction of the country. I say this despite total disagreement with their political views, and more than that, a very basic disagreement about how the world works, what is good for the country, and what the role of government ought to be, among many other things. But their harsh hostility to a largely imaginary evil enemy was the major jarring note. Nonetheless, among themselves they are pleasant and normal and practical.
I behaved in a civil and friendly fashion. I did not do or say anything disruptive or otherwise draw attention to myself at what was, after all, a public meeting in a public building. Nor did I announce my own views. I mostly listened, took some notes, and asked one question.
Bottom line. The Obama supporters are already massively launched into the 2012 campaign. His supporters are committed and see a path to a win. They will be very well organized and well funded. Their ground game going into 2012 will, I predict, be the biggest and best organized and best funded political campaign that anyone has ever seen in a national election so far. I do not think the GOP will be able to match it.
If the GOP thinks that Mr. Obama is going to an easy target, for any GOP nominee, they are smoking crack.
Mr. Obama has been favored on Intrade all along. He should be. It is very difficult to unseat a president running for reelection.
Mr. Obama is the frontrunner and he is likely to win.
After it was over I talked to the LaRouchies outside. As always, they sounded lucid for the first two sentences or so, then fade into La La Land. I liked the map of a global high speed rail network, including a bridge across the Bering Strait. For the trillion bucks, give or take, we spent on the stimulus we could have built a train to Russia. It would have been a better use of the money.
I attended the American Majority Grassroots/Activist Training Session, in the basement at the VFW hall in Oak Lawn, IL on June 25, 2011.
Steve Stevlic of the Chicago Tea Party Patriots told me about this event. the meeting was run by an organization called American Majority. I had repeated, work-related phone calls I had to deal with, so I lost much of the content of the meeting. The initial part of the meeting was about how to be a citizen activist, making sure that there were knowledgeable people attending school board and city council meetings. There was also discussion of voter registration drives, and how to to run them. The essence of the longest portion of the meeting I did hear was providing basic instruction for people who want to get involved in running for office at the local level. Several candidates for local offices got up and introduced themselves, and they all sounded rock-solid to me, and I hope they all win. (One excellent candidate I spoke to at length was Curt Luna a veteran of the First Gulf War, who is running for Merrillville, IN town council. Help him out if you can.)
The presentation was well done, and I encourage anyone who has an opportunity to participate in activities associated with American Majority to do so.
This meeting was in strong contrast to the OFA meeting. Where OFA is a vehicle for making ideologically motivated activists effective on behalf of the Democrat party, the GOP in Illinois apparently has little use for the equally energized conservatives who are willing to work and be activists.
As a result, there is a lot of energy that is forced into what have so far been makeshift and do-it-yourself efforts. Long term, this is all to the good, and will lead to the creation of a genuine political counterculture. In the meantime, there is a major election in 2012, and one side is mobilized more completely and much earlier than the other. How much this early advantage will mean cannot yet be determined.
For now, you can get your Gadsden Rattler 2012 bumper sticker and counterbalance the Obama 2012 stuff. These really do look great on vehicles. I got the idea for the thing at this meeting, as I describe here.
As always at Tea Party related events, I am struck by the reality of the people involved (mature, sensible, serious) versus the unhinged depictions in the media. I am also struck by the pragmatism and diversity of views among Tea Party people, as compared to the media representation, which seems to be entirely made out of thin air. For example, Michelle Bachmann is frequently described as a Tea Party favorite. Maybe. But not in Chicago, from what I can tell. I think people would vote for Ms. Bachmann over Obama, of course. But I am not seeing anything that suggests she is some kind of anointed frontrunner in this group. As to who is the favorite among the declared Republicans, I am not seeing any clear pattern among the people I talk to. One very on-the-ball person made a case for Romney, on pragmatic grounds.
The message to GOP candidates, based on my unscientific sample, is that it is up each of them to make a case to this large and varied community. It is up for grabs.
So, don’t believe what you read. Come to a Tea Party event and find out for yourself.
The monthly meeting in Chicago is tomorrow, July 6, 2011.
Coming up, in Schaumburg, on Friday, September 30, and Saturday, October 1 will be TeaCon 2011. I will be going to this. There will be a presidential straw poll, and we may get an idea of who is the Tea Party favorite from that.
I went to a fiftieth wedding anniversary party the same night as the Tea Party / American Majority event.
My wife’s aunt and uncle have been married since 1961. That is a lot of history. I first met them almost 30 years ago. A big chunk of the extended family was there. They had a slide show of photos and old home movies. Lots of people now gone, lots of babies now grown up, lots of heads now grey or bald or both. Plenty of grandchildren running around.
This is a great country. Life has been good. It has been an enviable 50 years.
We may be headed into harder times. Let’s make the most of the years ahead and get his country back on track.
The point of life is not politics. The point of life is life. The point of politics is not to try to change America into some imaginary utopia where no one has to pay for anything, and the government provides for every need by magic. The point of politics is to make sure that the hard, harsh power of government is used lawfully, and accountably, and only for its limited and necessary ends, so we can go about living our lives in peace and prosperity and freedom.
As Ronald Reagan used to say, there are simple answers, there are just no easy answers.