How Dare He Play the Winning Card!

By Al Giordano


I've cited Mike Krauss here before. He's an old friend of mine who was once executive director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party and his columns of late have not been particularly friendly toward Obama. In fact, he noted in a recent email to his readers: "Some have suggested that my criticisms of Senator Obama verge on Fox News broadcasting." But that just makes his smackdown of this week's emergence of race-baiting as a tactic by the McCain campaign all the more powerful:


So to go after the swing voters in Hillaryland, McCain has gone again to the Clinton playbook and introduced the word "race" into the campaign.


I understand the strategy, but I had expected better.

...if the McCain campaign - no, lets be clear - if John McCain persists playing to racial antagonism, he will invite and deserve whatever Obama sends back. Kiss the campaign goodbye.

And if John McCain should back into the White House on the strength of that ploy, he's going to find out what "bitter" really means.

Kiss the next four years goodbye.


Basically, the McCain campaign's accusation that Obama played the "race" card is misstated (as it so often has been, by others, too, this year). The term "playing the race card" applies very specifically to efforts to invoke bigotry and racial tensions to gain votes or power. When Obama said, the other day, in front of a Missouri crowd (one that was about 98 percent white) that he didn't look like the men on dollar bills, he wasn't playing any race card, but it would have been fair game to say that he was playing the "racism card."

They really are two distinct, in fact, opposite, things.

Those that do, so often, play the race card - intending to divide Americans along racial lines (see the aforementioned Fox News for daily examples) - have made a science out of accusing that any person that recognizes or speaks aloud about the deeply rooted racism in US politics and culture is himself practicing a form of racism. In their logic, if you call anybody out on racially divisive behavior then it is you, and not them, that is somehow the racist. It's oh so Orwellian. We heard plenty of that during the Democratic primaries, no? (Nobody takes a criticism of racist behavior more personally than somebody that thinks himself a liberal: just look out the passenger window and see all those wounded Democratic Party egos that are stacked up alongside the road to the White House like so much roadkill.)

In that context, the exchange in St. Petersburg, Florida, yesterday between Obama and some African-American youths that stood up in the seats behind him and held up a banner that said "What About the Black Community, Obama?" was super interesting, because, reading between the lines, it wasn't really about race.

It was about tactics.

That protest, in fact, mirrored the FISA debate and some other matters (the latest being the silly and unproductive attempts to pressure Obama to put Wes Clark on his ticket as VP, just gag me, please) by white "progressives" (I put that word in quotes because so many that describe themselves as such are far more centrist, in ideology and style, than many of us that openly organize against a capitalist system; they lay a false claim to the word, in my opinion, boneheadedly false when they so often claim an upper hand or moral superiority in its use) when the real difference between them and Obama is not one of ideology or policy, but one of strategy and tactics, what the senator calls "framing."

With no track record to prove it, they somehow think that they know better how to win a presidential election than, well, the guy who's been winning it all year.

The scene in St. Pete also provided a lesson in community organizing: Obama didn't send the cops in to taze those protesters. He included them, while utilizing them as props to make his own points. He told them, "You'll have a chance to make a statement." Check out part I of the video:




As the crowd in St. Pete became raucous against the protestors, Obama urged them to respect the dissent, Alinsky style: "This is democracy in action." True to his word, he went back to those protestors and offered them the microphone to speak:




Here's the money quote from Obama's response:


"I may not have spoken out in the way that you would have wanted me to speak out, which is fine... What I'm suggesting is that on each of these issues that you mention I have spoken out and I have spoken out forcefully. Listen, I was a civil rights lawyer. I passed the first racial profiling legislation in Illinois... some of the toughest death penalty reform legislation in Illinois... now, that doesn't mean that I'm always going to satisfy the way that you guys want these issues framed, and I understand. Which gives you the option of voting for somebody else. It gives you the option to run for office yourself. Those are all options. But the one thing that I think is important is that we're respectful toward each other. And what is true is I believe that the only way we're gonna solve our problems in this country is if all of us come together: black, white, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American, young, old, disabled, gay, straight, that, I think has got to be our agenda. Alright. Next question."


Baratunde Thurston at Jack & Jill Politics offers cogent analysis:


First observation: for the scared white folks who think Obama is going to lead the return of the Nubian Empire, the visual of him getting heckled by young black men for not addressing the problems of black America enough, should do much to settle those fears. Ludacris reminded them he was black. These brothers push him the other way! It might actually help him with those voters.


Next. I'm used to, and have respect for, those who informedly criticize Obama because they think he's not progressive enought (see: Black Agenda Report.) But the dudes in the video showed an incredible lack of knowledge when they said Obama's not talking about these issues, "not once." As his answer began to prove, he has been speaking and acting out on issues that face black Americans, but he's not running for president of black America alone. To actually frame these issues in a way that will result in positive change, you need to have more than just angry black America. You need a coalition that sees all our our problems and solutions bound together.

I doubt that large numbers of black voters feel the need to put this pressure on Obama, but I get worried when I see it crop up. Often, I think folks get into an either-or situation when it comes to solving any sort of problem really. Either we do it Martin's way, or we do it early-Malcolm's way. Either we do it Booker T's way, or we do it W.E.B.'s way. Either we do it Jesse's way, or we do it Barack's way. That's not how things work. What we need is a more complex way of understanding how to actually get things done.


One of the comments under Baratunde's post accused that "Nobody could ever make me believe that he would use that tone and tell somebody White to you have the option of voting for somebody else."

Bzzzt. In fact, Obama did essentially say the same thing to the (overwhelmingly white and college educated) critics of his vote on FISA:


...some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That's ok.


I'm personally loving this: As a longstanding community organizer, journalist and foot soldier on the left (with the scar tissue upon scar tissue and a string of hard-won victories to prove it) my frustration with the ineffectiveness of so many that consider themselves also of the left in the United States in recent years has boiled over. I am so sick of having to be lumped in with those masturbatory practitioners of bad performance art that they call activism. Really. I had to leave the country 11 years ago to find better change-agents worth reporting on.

And suddenly, along comes a political candidate inside the United States - a category of person from the last place I expected this to come from - giving a nationwide teach-in and lesson-in-civics about how to effectively organize for change.

Here's an unspoken little secret: The success of Obama's campaign challenges those that still subscribe to broken patterns of activism - whether the zombie-like attempt to repeat the completely coopted street protest tactics of 1968 (or of 1999) or the academic purity troll approach that complains without even attempting to organize real people - and is driving various of them absolutely crazy with envy.

To every fellow and sister of the left that, practically on automatic pilot, bemoans that Obama has taken center stage when it comes to organizing for change in the United States (I've heard your whispers about "We can't wait to see Al disillusioned in 2009! That'll show him!" as if you're actually hoping for bad news), I say: Show me the better plan.

Show me how you are effectively organizing real people. Show me how you stopped the Clinton machine in the 1990s from auctioning off the Democratic Party (oops, too late!). Show me how you stopped the war in Iraq. Show me a single political battle you that have won with your tired old tactics and "framing" of "issues." Then I'll take your complaining more seriously.

The skinny kid with the big ears that don't look like the men on dollar bills is doing, right here, right now, what none of you complaining about him have accomplished: He's built a nationwide grassroots organization - and trained thousands in the nuts and bolts of how to do it on the local level - in a way that facilitates simultaneous horizontal organization and that can sustain the kind of pluralism that says: hey, you don't like the way I'm doing it? Do it yourself then!

I'm glad that this is happening in my lifetime. For a long time, I doubted that it would.



Open Left Crowd- Listen up!

This is just what the Open Left crowd of arrogant ideologues needs to hear. Every candidate who runs has to meet their standards of purity or they are just not going to be pleased. It's difficult to find a more self-satisfied group of armchair generals. And the whining that someone won't pay them to be full time political actors!!

Barack is going to win and they will spend the next eight years complaining about his lack of attention to them and their touted analysis.

Speaking Truth to Power, Action to Power

I think that what people aren't realizing about the silent massive, mobilization that is unprecedented in American politics, at least modern American politics, is how amazing of a campaign Obama is running.

On one level there is the MSM view at the national level, then there is the view shown at the local level and then there is the Obama campaign operating outside the cameras at the neighbourhood level.

Outside of the talking heads screaming at each other, outside of his own amazing charisma and pure political talent, Obama is also a tactical genius - at least as a politician on the biggest stages.  

While there are good days and bad days, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to his political opponents, Obama is killing them softly by organizing, organizing, organizing...step by step, block by block.


Adjusting to the dark

Obama's struggle to convince "progressives" of his authenticity reminds me of something an old Greek guy one said:

And is there anything suprising in one who passes from divine contemplation to the evil state of man ... if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in the courts of law, and other places, about the images ... of justice, and is endeavoring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?" Socrates

McCain's tactics

I'm new to politics (or to paying attention to politics), so maybe this happens with every Presidential election, but I'm really surprised at the "armchair strategists" who call on Plouffe/Axelrod/Burton to be fired every other day, and yell at Obama to "fight back".

It looks to me like McCain is in the process of slowly and methodically destroying his "brand" as the moderate, fair, honest war hero. He may be exciting the base that still hearts Rove, but ticking off people like Mr. Krauss, who can hardly be written off as Kool Aid drinking Obamabots.

Obama's tactic for dealing with negative campaigning seems to be: allow the opposition to thoroughly show their butt, and then respond. The quote I am seeing on the news this morning from Obamas latest press conference is "Republicans are good at negative campaigning, but bad at governing". Nice. Now every negative ad McCain puts out feeds into this idea.



Show me how you stopped . . .

Al, this is prize ink. Especially your final paragraphs.

Al....based on your experience

what should we and the Obama campaign be doing right now?
I don't think it should be negative campaigning because that will undermine his message.
But the GOP and scum like Rove  were always successful in branding their opponents at will, and the sheep like American media follows their steps.
the "arrogant", " presumtous" meme held traction, when the parrots in cable networks kept repeating the terms, a new Anti-Obama book filled with lies is coming on Mon from the people who brought you "swift boat attacks.....and the media will give them space to air thier crap so they won't be labeled bias.
I am scared...yes I am, because the stakes of this election are too high, I have nightmares of a smear GOP campaign that will swing the presidential election their way.....and that possibilty fills me with dread.
I am also doing whatever I can to help Obama win...

playing the race card is like playing the two of dimonds


Al,        Can I share this link to a Tim Wise article about the race card? I think it says it all.


Organizing in Alaska

Obama has paid staff and several campaign offices here in Alaska. My wife and I went to an initial volunteer training the other day, and will attend a more extensive neighborhood training session next weekend. According to the local campaign staffer, we need to come up with only 30K additional votes in AK to swing the state to Obama in November. Besides the grass-roots organizing effort, the campaign is already running ads in the state, which hasn't gone D since 1964. I agree that the MSM doesn't really understand what's going on at the grassroots, and the degree to which the synergy between real enthusiasm for Obama and widespread organizational effort will make a huge difference on November 4.

I won't repeat...

PalGirl2008 - You ask "what should we and the Obama campaign be doing right now?"

A few days ago, I spoke to that very question.

I won't repeat it here, except to say that it begins with "R" and ends with "egistering new voters"!

It's almost the whole ball game.


Giant puppets and hackey sack games just don't CUT IT anymore by any stretch of the imagination. And neither does obsessive chicken-little blogging. The standards are being raised. We're being forced to get tougher. Thank goodness. You start to wonder who really is in fact dedicated to certain ideologies-- or whether the framing itself is what some are in fact so desperate to preserve.  And who can blame them? It's much nicer to come down from the ivory tower, look around in disugust and criticism, and then head back up to ones laptop.

Right on, Al.

Kat @ 1:47 p.m. -

Your point can't be emphasized strongly enough. We should all expect the pundit classes to spend a lot of time not excoriating the McCain campaign for its sleaziness but celebrating the notion that "negative campaigning works." 

But so does horizontal campaigning. While Nero-nation fiddles, I get multiple emails every day about local Obama grassroots organizing - small events, barbecues, phone banks, etc. I even got an Obama fundraising phone call yesterday. The coalition is building. Every day that Obama doesn't give in to the armchair pundits is a good day.

I'm also getting sick of the asthmatic reporting about the daily tracking polls that have Obama within the margin of error. In Supersize Me/McMansion Nation, he apparently must have a lead of 40% in order for his lead to really be a lead. His lead can continue to poll within the margin for error from now until November for all I care, as long as he also wins on election day within the margin of error. A win is a win. Seems everyone's forgotten that we inhabit a fundamentally conservative nation whose last Democratic president was elected and re-elected without winning a majority vote (under 50% both times).

The official position for Obama supporters going forward ought to be: offense. The Republicans have a candidate that most of them hate, but you don't see any confusion among them about what actions to take and how to maintain focus. Democrats, per usual, have some kind of weird fear of success. We need to get over it.

Once again Al

You hit the nail on the head.

It's interesting that the McCain campaign is using a message that is the polar opposite of what Obama is saying.

It's not about Obama Power it's about us using our power to be the catalyst for change, and that scares the Bejesus out of the GOP.

Imagine if each and everyone of us had a say in Goverment, you know the way it's supposed to be.

The adage "Freedom isn't free", is true we have to get off our collective asses to change things.

It's easy to complain, not so easy to work to make things better.

Keep doing what we have been doing. We can let the lazy assed people that are waiting for somebody else to do the heavy lifting , be our voice, or we can keep killing them softly by organizing and show that personal responsibilty is the road to take.

playing the race card

I forgot to put my name and email on the tim wise post

organic grassroots campaign

Al, you are my hero! I look forward to every post and I love your analysis, which, as I've said before, is always fresh and with an insight that few bloggers have.

I just wanted to add that the brilliance of Obama's campaign -- and of the man -- is that as much as anything it has fostered an organic grassroots campaign unlike anything I've ever seen. I live in John McCain's home state, and while I still doubt that Obama could win here, many of my local friends disagree, and I'm not so sure of my assumption since there is a huge grassroots Obama organization here in Southern Arizona that is very active and has been throughout the summer. We were raising money and holding events of our own initiative long before any official campaign presence returned to AZ. I'm sure this has happened everywhere, but to see it on such a scale on McCain's turf is impressive. After all, it was southern Arizona who put Janet Napolitano in the governor's office, so anything's possible. AZ is at least a "purple" state now.


Half Agree, Half Disagree

On the "race card" nonsense, you're 100% correct, Al.  The McCain campaign is replaying 1988, when Lee Atwater used the occasion of a Dukakis aside to turn the campaign negative.  Dukakis has been asked about Bush the elder's involvement in Iran-Contra (about which Bush claimed total ignorance, and in fact made "out of the loop" an American catchphrase).  Dukakis responded by quoting an old Greek saying that "the fish rots from the head down."  Atwater, who'd been looking for an excuse, seized on this statement, whined that Dukakis had gone negative by comparing his opponent to a rotting fish (actually he'd compared him to the head of a rotting fish), and proceeded to quite successfully drag the campaign into the gutter. But this is no longer 1988....and I don't think it's going to work this time.

Where I disagree with you, Al, is on your optimism about Obama (no news there). I certainly don't hope that you're wrong. I hope that you're right and I'm wrong.

I entirely share your sense of the futility of the American left for the last several decades. And certainly the various failed tactics that we've adopted should not simply be repeated ad infinitum.  That's the definition of insanity.

But it does not therefore follow that what works--and the Obama campaign certainly works--is progressive. This is just a variation of the old "actually existing socialism" defense of Stalinism.

I wish I had something else that worked. My guess is that the tactics that Obama has used so successfully could be used for actually progressive ends (though in order to pursue those tactics in their current form one would have to have access to the kind of money that Obama has access to, and that's always a problem when, unlike Obama, one is pursuing policies that don't put corporations first).

But while the lack of other, better options may constitute a strong argument for progressives to, yet again, get behind the lesser evil, it hardly constitutes an argument that Obama is in any real sense progressive.

But, as I always say, I'd love to be proven wrong.

I can't say it enough Al

You rock.

Please, please come to St. Paul.

I suspect that a good number

I suspect that a good number of the people saying "He's just like Kerry, we're all doomed!" are in fact taking their direction from RNC headquarters. The level of concern trolling on this issue, and the frequency with which certain specific phrases and ideas are repeated reminds me of the "Obama is moving to the center, we're all doomed" spat from a month ago. Why so many on the left play right into Republican framing I don't know, but it no longer surprises me.

A lot of people don't seem to have even been paying attention during the primaries, or they would recognize that Obama has used this strategy before. But then, if they recognized that, they would have to acknowledge that it is a winning strategy, and their own ideas are not.

A lot of progressives don't seem to think Obama knows how to run his own campaign, or should be allowed to do so, which is demeaning and insulting to him.

Here in Washington state, we are safe for Obama, so the campaign is organizing folks to mobilize for the non-presidential primaries on August 19 (state and congressional races). Can I just say how much I love this kind of help for downticket races? Awesome stuff.

Few people realize what you realize Al.

That the Obama campaign is much more disciplined than previous campaigns. Even more disciplined than the McCain camp. And yes, you and Nate Silver over at are right on, the left activism has been struggling against the right for the last 20 years because they stick to a failed startegy, that yes, gets SOME results from time to time, like to get a media personailty to apologize for something, maybe raise money and stuff. This is not to mean that they are wrong. NO, far from it. They are fighting the good fight and for justice, but they have to recognize that they are not getting results:

this is from Nate over at

Among an avalanche of other examples, here you have CBS unethically hiding an importantly dishonest McCain answer on the surge timing vis-à-vis the Anbar Awakening, you have AP Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier writing love notes to Karl Rove and having been in negotiations to join McCain’s campaign press staff, and it’s not even close among Democratic voters (the perception) that the press favors Obama. That’s called utter failure of the Democratic blogosphere to influence the debate on press favoritism. Democratic bloggers and television analysts need to accept that if they want to fight this battle they need to scrap the entire ineffective strategy they’re using and start from scratch.

That’s if they want to have that fight. Conisder Stahl’s focus group lesson and the one from Obama’s Europe trip. They may just want to sit back and let the images trump all the yapping that isn’t registering anyway.


Blogs like Openleft, some at dailykos and need to wake up.


Al, can we cross post this on pleaase? or redirect them over here by quoting you?

Great post Al. Netpat, I

Great post Al.


Netpat, I don't think that the US population, as a whole, is conservative--in fact, they are quite a bit to the left of the two major parties, and this has been true for decades now.

However, the population as a whole is markedly different from 'likely voters'.

The major media tries to narrate who we are and what we believe as a people--in ways that protect the undemocratic status quo.  A good example of this is NPR's recent coverage of health care systems in Europe.  The reporter. when musing about why we don't have universal health care in the US, perpetuates the erroneoous notion that it is the US people that don't want socialized, unversal health care.  Polling has consistantly shown the a clear majority of people favor single payer, governemnt health insurance. At our worst, many among us simply repeat the big business clap-trap talking points.

Much of what stymies progressive political change are the corporate media.  This is a business run society--and business goes to great lenghts to manager perceptions and truncate expectations.  And the disease of 'the left' here in the US is much like Al describes.  A lot of the problem has to do with what we do with our off-time, and the fact that we are working longer hours to make up with a falling rate of pay and paying off debt for worthless consumerism.  There is also a level of political ignorance and disengagement that is reinforced by rewards and punishment, through our entertainment industry (subtle cynicism and additudinal dispositions), ect.   Good people die because of our horrible allocation of health care resources, but people remain apathetic.   I was hoping "Sicko" would be a catalyst for some type of movement--but we, the left, totally avoided moving through the opening that that movie helped crack a little bit.

Al, about the young men at the Obama assembly.  They are probably part of the Uhuruh Black power movement--and they do some important work in the bay area, where police brutality directed at   poor, peoeple of color is standard practice.

What I don't think these young men realize, however,  is that Obama's vociferously speaking truth about white supremacist oppression would hobble his campaign.   At any rate, I commend these men for being loud and speaking their mind the way they did---and I think that Obama handled the situation in an exemplary fashion.

On another level, I am as skeptical as Ben about any 'progressive' change happening--not because Obama isn't instinctively progressive, but because the population has become, by design, depoliticized and fragmented.  The political and historical illiteracy on the part of the population is off the charts--and the incessant corporate propaganda/perception management shifts the attention of the masses away from the ball really works.

Can or will Obama, if he were to win, encourage the grass roots support to shift toward a organizing behind a legislative program of progressive reform?  I don't know--but, for my part, I am tired of living in a nation where crucial problems (education, healthcare, engergy, ecological health, falling wages, ect.) are never really addressed, or these problems become progressively worse.   In my state a huge swath of poor kids cannot recieve dental care because the medicare program is not working.  This is shameful and criminal.

Lastly, about the 'go negative' narrative.  I think Obama's instincts to NOT go negative will pay off in the longrun. To me, anyway, McLame is simply appearing low and desparate.

One more thing, I havent' heard anyone mention the obvious:  both Paris Hilton and Speers are effing Republicans!  If anyone is associated with vapid celebrity it is McLame with all his appearances on the late night shows.

This isn't new

This organizing thing isn't new, what Obama has done is demonstrate that the tactic may be deployable on a larger scale than before. But these tactics have long been alive and well and they don't cost much. The thing they require is drive, a human capital that in some ways is harder to get than dollar bills.

As a progressive organizer who has worked in state wide capacities and local ones I can attest to how powerful these tools are. As others fall into a pit of despair others fight. I've seen students and other activist organizing around issues effectively.

Al is right on in one way, American progressives have lacked not money but the will to truly engage. I think that is where he draws in Obama. For whatever his platform is at the end of the day (and I don't see it as nearly progressive enough) Obama is about the only figure on the national stage saying: You can do these things yourselves. I'm not the one to be taking cues from.

What stands out to me because I work on LGBT issues is what he said to the advocate. He talked about his record and commitment and that is where most pols would have ended it. But then said that the LGBT community, and no group of constituents for that matter, should take their cue from him or any politician. They should push their agenda. Too many have done an HRC in selling their allegiance to (in this case the DLC and Dems widely) rather than sticking to their issues and pushing.

You can quote

Joeyt - You can quote as much of this as you like. I think when others draw attention to my words it's often more effective than me out there beating my own drum.

Yes, but...

Great post. I've had the same take on this ever since Obama had that first event in Austin a while ago where 20,000 showed up in field. There has never been such a turnout so early in a Prez campaign (was that before Obama declared even?), and you could see the surprise in Obama that day as well. He also has talked about this.

I knew then something was happening and the positive aspects of this, which you've described so well in this post and many others.

But...I would caution those who agree with this viewpoint about a new kind of activism to not vilify those who choose other methods to create change. The sterotypical "protesters" have accomplished many. many great things over the decades, nationally and especially locally (all politics is local after all). Also, many people getting involved with the Obama campaign are newcomers to political action, while protesters have been engaged and active on many of these same issues for most of their lives. This should be celebrated.

We're all in this boat together, and we all bring our own skills to the table. We can attack tyranny from all kinds of angles.

Again, completely agree with the "use the system to change the system" approach, but let's make sure we don't develop a "holier than thou" attitude like those which we are fighting against. (could see that in some of the crowd in the above clips...Obama clearly understands this based on his response and his history.)

Ben Alpers, I cannot believe

Ben Alpers,

I cannot believe you state in so many words that "Obama puts corporations first"!

He has not only avoided the usual dependence on corporations to fund his campaign and stated that he is doing so in order not to be beholden to them in creating policy and his actions while in office, he has already shown good judgement in his rejection of the gas tax holiday with a promise to tax the windfall profits of the oil companies. I'm sure this approach to corporations does not line them all up in support of Obama's candidacy. In fact, we know that Wal*Mart is already gearing up its managerial cohort to wage an internal campaign against Obama, fearing the resurgence of unionizing under an Obama administration.

Your comment seems rather trollish. You state your concern, but do not back it up with evidence.

And it is ludicrous to denigrate Obama by comparing what you fear might happen--Obama selling out progressivism in favour of toadying to corporations--with how Stalinism was a travesty of ideal socialism. Obama is nothing like a demagogue. He is a pragmatist, and perhaps that is automatically scary to those with a rigid theory of how things should run. Nader was sure that he was pure, Bush thinks he is, but Obama says he is imperfect. I'll take his wariness of corporate sponsorship and inclusive approach to "democracy in action" over pureness any day.

Show me the evidence for Obama being a corporate shill.

"Progressive" as a four-letter word

Kat, you're pretty quick at this.  Most of us have taken quite a while to move on from thinking we know better than some of the most skilled and crafty political minds of our generation.  We can't stand not having control of the process; maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves.  But it's chicken-littling, no matter why.

When we chicken-little about Obama not being as lefty as we want him to be, we have to ask what we mean when we say "progressive"?  Progressive 'politics' or innovative organizing and crafty strategy?  One's a set of policies; the other is a method.

The MSM conflates the two, creating the "moving to the center" or "flip-flop" propaganda opportunities out of cautious progressive-leaning policies and skillful community organizing.  Let's not buy into that, OK?  Obama's a cautious, careful, clever politician who wants to move this country towards fairness and equity, who sees power as the tool to do so.

Get past the charisma and you see what I think Al sees, the most amazing thing to come out of U.S. politics since I don't know, Bobby Kennedy?  Fill in your favorite blank.  I know it's nothing I'd ever dared hope to see in my lifetime.

And as for what Obama or his campaign should be doing or saying, I agree with Al: forget about advising the Obama campaign.  You got brilliant ideas, volunteer them or even better implement them.  Otherwise, go forth and do what political supporters have done ever since we rose up on our hind legs: organize and support.  Register voters, write letters to your newspaper, hit the streets.


Al - Once again, you hit the

Al -

Once again, you hit the nail on the head (I know, cliche).

Now, lets register more voters, folks! Time is precious, and it is ticking away.


Don't curse the news, make it

What the Obama campaign is about is empowerment - training folks in fundamental politcal organizing skills - so we can all move forward.

One place where people seem so disempowered is on voice. If they speak up, it's by blogging, frequently clashing with pursits or outright trolls.  But if there's an alternative narrative to be promoted in the MSM, we don't have to wait for the Obama campaign to do it nor to give us marching orders.

There are thousands of publication outlets in this country many of which are looking for reasonalbe content to fill their op-ed pages. In Maine, there are all kinds of folks who show up on the op-ed pages of even the largest papers in the state and certainly also in the smaller papers. People who have op-ed pieces published are identified as social studies teachers, members of a community group, a former Peace Corps volunteer, an owner of a business -- in other words, folks who don't have any super special credentials. Now, it's obviously quite hard to get into major newspapers. But even there, a cogent letter to the editor will be published especially if it comes from an area of the country outside of their metro area.

So what are folks waiting for? If we all sit down and write a 300-400 word piece that has a good hook at the start and is civil and we send it in to a local paper, many of us will get published.  And we can do this once a week or once a month and many of us will get a big proportion published. If you don't have much time, take an hour you would have spent blogging and write an op-ed or letter to the editor.

To DoctorJ


I'm in southern Arizona too. Have been waiting for Obama to open an office here. I'm guessing that may not happen. Would like to get involved registering new voters, but have found the Democratic party here in Arizona, in years past, to be decrepit, ineffective and totally out of touch.

How can I get in touch with that Obama grassroots organization you speak of? Through the Obama website? Thanks.

Obama has repeatedly said he

Obama has repeatedly said he wants a system that encourages people to pay attention to what's really going on and to engage in not only civic discourse, but action, to solve problems. This is what really scares the shit out of the corporate media and and corporate purveyors of other stuff besides entertainment and information. They are not sure they want a roused country, even as they know we are headed toward a precipice that will ruin their markets in any case.


What this will force us to do one way or another, in a planned, Obama-led way, or a cataclismic less managable way, is to re-design our economic system to be more locally-driven, more responsive to real rather than designed needs, and most importantly, to reflect the true cost of commodities and services.


The interesting development from my point of view is that Obama is campaigning using a community organizing model, which can be used, whether he wins or not, to begin the changeover. I never would have thought to use such a model for a national presidential campaign, or any political campaign for elective office. But then, Patty Radle did it right here in San Antonio Texas, a fact I had forgotten til Obama's campaign caught my attention the night of the Iowa primary.


Thanks, Al, for getting us talking meta here -



Hey Anonymous

I got an anonymous message asking for a comment submission to be "sent back to me." Um... how can I do that if you're anonymous? Ha!

If you want to submit a different set of words, go right ahead.

Well,'ve kinda summed up the problem

in your conclusion. The problem for these folks is that they weren't successful with their tactics. To them, the cause wasn't as important as the glory of being the one responsible.

Look at Nader as a great example of this - the organizations he built used organizing tactics, but not as effectively as what Obama has done. Nader wanted to break through...he wanted to "change" the status quo. He didn't - he can't. Obama's doing Nader happy? Hell no - the change wasn't as important as the glory for him.

Obama isn't in this for his own personal benefit - he's in it because he thinks the change is actually possible...this is exactly the kind of person we can place some trust in as President.


The State Democratic Party is very different than it was in the past.  At least it is here in Phoenix.  They are coordinating with the Obama Campaign and are really working a grassroots strategy.  We go out almost every weekend and evenings and knock on doors of Democrats in our area to make sure they're fired up ready to go.  You can be a neighborhood volunteer and get lists of Democrats in your area from the party.  We need to know who our voters are.  

hard won insight

Your self-understanding and ability to share these insights is very much appreciated. There is a real person behind this.

I will take my anti-Chicken Little pills as prescribed.



Activism: Performance Art or Craft Show

Al says: "...just gag me, please..."

That is soooooo 1980's.  Worse yet, early 80's. Full redemption is not far behind with:

"I am so sick of having to be lumped in with those masturbatory practitioners of bad performance art that they call activism."

That is soooo Oscar Wilde meets William S. Burroughs.

In all seriousnesslessness, community organizing is a constant theme at The Field.  Although you do not say it explicitly, I think there is an underlying assumption that the tactic itself is "progressive".  But Bush used it some to get elected in 2000 and 2004 (did anyone see the Bush as messiah video quietly distributed to community churches and watched in groups across the land). Or maybe you are simply saying this tactic has been a winning one, unlike the "progressives".

To me, Obama is an unconventional candidate with conventional politics running a revolutionary campaign. But it's a revolution within the grip of a suburbanite because they don't have to change their hairstyle to participate.  Oh, I have lots of demographic/cultural references, but I don't think this is a St. John's crowd (the designer, not the place, (a distinction with no demographic difference)).

Still, Obama can lose, so like Al says upthread and in other posts, register voters, register voters, register voters.  

Your last sentence said it all for me...

"I'm glad that this is happening in my lifetime. For a long time, I doubted that it would."

as did I ...

and on the topic of that elusive "race card" ... interesting piece by Mark Sawyer:

Barack has no Race Card to play!


sorry... can't seem to get the link thing down...


Kathleen - Link fixed for you.

To put in html code, click the "Turn off style tools" words under the comments submission box, paste in your code, then click it back on before posting.

A major part of the problems

A major part of the problems that self-proclaimed progressives have had has been their willingness to claim that their personal viewpoints constitute all that shall be known about being progressive, and to demonize anyone who ventures to disagree.  The result is that they marginalize themselves, whine all the way to their blogs, and then convince themselves that they hold the magic keys to the kingdom, and that next time they will win.

I would suggest that the first rule of progressive should be:

No-one is perfect


For the second rule:


Awareness of imperfection produces reflection


For the third:


Reflection produces respect for others


For the fourth:


Respect for others means working with them intelligently and sincerely on shared goals, despite disagreement in some areas.


The fifth rule:


No rule book is a substitute for independent and self-critical thinking, but it can be a useful startingpoint.


The sixth rule:


Don't make too many rules.

Great article to come back to...

...after registering voters at a neighborhood BBQ (we registered 18 people out of about 500 attendees).

I live in Los Angeles which is, of course, in the comfortably blue state of California.  So why bother registering voters?  And does 18 people really matter?

Because when I register a voter, I also give them a small sheet of paper with the following info (at end of this post) to help motivate them to move from just a voter to a PARTICIPANT in the political process on behalf of the Obama campaign.  I enlist them in a growing army.  So even though their vote here in California probably won't make a difference, their enthusiasm and participation in phonebanking neighboring states, in fundraising, in community service events, and--most importantly--in voter reg events in nearby BATTLEGROUND states where every vote WILL count is critically important.

I'm going with a group to Nevada in three weeks, and my local volunteer group will be canvassing in New Mexico and probably Colorado as well.  For the next three months, small to medium size squads of our volunteers from California (we have hundreds on our list) will deploy throughout the western states on weekend after weekend to register voters and bring THEM on board as volunteers in their local communities.

So, I sign up 18 people today and maybe one or two of them get excited enough to donate some money or volunteer in events that result in one or two MORE people joining in.  Rinse and repeat for the next 93 days until the election.

Here's the text of the handout (I print four to a page, in English on one side and Spanish on the other) our group gives out at voter reg events (including HUGE ones where thousands of citizens are naturalized and we register them after they leave their naturalization ceremony). It gives them the L.A. County Registrar's number for them to confirm their registration two weeks later (making them an active participant already) and then provides them URLs to get started with the national campaign, the name and email address of our volunteer coordinator so they get on our mailing list, and lastly a sample ongoing event that they might like to join in on right away:


Congratulations on Registering to Vote…

Now Join the Movement for Change!


the L.A. County Registrar:  (800) 815-2666

If you live in another county, they’ll give you that number


ADVOCATE for Change:

Learn about Sen. Obama’s stance on important issues

DONATE for Change:

Support the campaign funded by 1.7 million small donors

SIGN UP for Change:
an online profile with the national campaign

VOLUNTEER for Change:  join local organizers!

Email your name, address, email, and phone to our
Volunteer Coordinator xxxx xxxxx at


Participate in Local Events such as…

Voter Registration:  3rd Street Promenade in Santa

Monica, Saturdays from Noon to 4p until November

Join us outside Sunglass Hut between Arizona and Santa Monica Blvd. as we register voters and provide information




Thanks Al...

Now I'll practice -- off topic, but a nice way to take a little break -- with Feat and Mary J

Somethings Gotta Give


@ morzer -- yes!

"Awareness of imperfection produces reflection"

In one of several lives I try to balance, I teach. My students are headed towards careers in human services, very often in social services or child welfare. I have seen, after many years in social services, the damage wreaked by those who are incapable of self-reflection. The most important thing I can teach my students, and the most significant lesson I have learned, is the art of critical reflection... on our lives, our values and our practice. I have found this ability to be lacking on both sides of the political spectrum... Love your rules!

OT - for any other rural based activists!

I just moved to South Carolina in a rather rural area. My searches have informed me that there is no Obama office nearby in SC. However, I believe there may be one in Savannah, Georgia? Would my efforts better be served working in Georgia? I am definitely not that familiar with this part of the country (Chicagoan who lived in Michigan, then Phoenix, AZ and now Bluffton, SC (near Hilton Head Island). I'm only 22 so my only campaign experience was working on the Kerry campaign at Michigan State so I am definitely open to any advice (register register, got that part!! -- working on my boyfriend... Obama supporter but doesn't think his vote is worth anything or that anything can change at all). If anyone would like to e-mail me advice they're more than welcome -


@Russell - I love your attachment. Any chance I could adapt it?


How well put!!! You have me seriously considering going out and working to register voters now... even though I live in CA and it will almost 100% go Dem in Nov, I'm realizing the ripple effect of that could easily trickle out and over into friends and families of the newly registered voters in other states... hmmm, well I guess like Chuck D said; "each one teach one!"

No better time to get involved!

@ Kris August 3, 2008 - 12:02 am

 Here is a list of events you can attend to get more involved in South Carolina from SC for BO.

There are also groups you can join on that page.They will guide you in how you can help. I live in Southern CA, but have joined groups in Southern NV to help there starting next month. If you want to help in GA, go to the georgia homepage and sign up there too.

@Matt-Do it, do it now :>)

Al, each time I think I have read your best work

you top yourself. 

@ Matt - many of us in CA are travelling to Nevada and Arizona to lend a hand with voter registration there, and you can do phone banking into other states as well.

And we do have urgent issues here at home in CA, including the dreadful Proposition 8 that will roll back my recently won right to marry my longtime domestic partner.  So efforts to register Californians are not wasted by any means.  Keep it up!

Besides, we're going to need to Total(ly) Recall Ahnold for his egregious assault on state workers.

LOL@ Allan

 Where do I sign up to help recall the Governator?

Al-Ditto to what Allan says. Another in a long line of posts that tops that the last.

I have also wondered if a leader who could motivate me would ever come in my lifetime and am so happy that this is the year it did. What I am frustrated with this spring/summer is the blogger vs. the volunteer. I have friends who blog and will vote but that is all they do. One who hangs out here and I have tried to get her to sign up for volunteer duties or donating, hell, I have tried to get her to join fieldhands to no avail. These are the people who seem to care, but do they really? How many of these types are out there blogging & following events but doing nothing else?

Al IS Our *Hero*...again!!!

This post shows again Al's excellent understanding of Barack's excellent campaign!

Re: registering to vote, even my husband is getting into it this year!

BTW:  we went to a Jill Scott Concert here in Detroit last Sunday (Jill was awesome, of course!), and as soon as we entered the gate where you give your tickets, there was a BIG sign "Obama '08", and a GOTV table!  People were registering!

Yes, the MSM and the Repubs just don't understand!  It is awesome to see...the Obama Nation GOTV is front of the grocery stores, at all of the festivals, going door-to-door in neighborhoods, at the parks where family reunions are going on,...and I'm just talking about some of the GOTV activities I've done with hubby in the past few weeks!

The activity in Alaska is exciting; especially since the "Republican brand" has been "tarnished" again there by a Senator...

One of my customers for one of my businesses lives in a senior citizens' high-rise, and I'm going there next week to GOTV, educate them on absentee voting, and selling Obama gear!  (Many of them at that housing complex are not very mobile...)

waterprise2 AKA Pam

Liberal with a Capital L!


I know it's been said before

particularly here but I want to throw my two cents in - get out there and volunteer! It is the best antidote for all the junk the msm is presenting to us as 'fact' or 'news' and reaching out to people in our communties is vital, not only for this election but for effecting any changes we wish to see in government or society on all levels.

I'm finding I have little patience for the crap that is out there these days in terms of lies, manufactured anxieties and hand-wringing (with no action). My mom was recently expressing some of this the other day and I have to confess I was more than a little exasperated. Apparently there are some in Downeast Maine who are convinced the Obama's got to "stop giving those fist jabs with his wife in public." I explained to her that; a, it was once and b, it wasn't a terrorist thing for god's sake. I can only hope she shares that information with the people she's been speaking with who are expressing these 'concerns.' After I hung up my husband wanted to know how people in a state that is as basketball obsessed as Maine don't know a fist bump when they see one. Okay I'll stop ranting now but I really cannot express enough how important it is that we all get out there and try to energize folks to at least vote and encourage them to do more and take some ownership and responsibility for the direction or elected leaders take us>

The Maverick

Hey Al,

Seeing the playing cards at the top of your post gave me an idea for an ad. I've read somewhere that this whole "maverick" meme needs to be turned on its head and elaborated on, i.e., do we really want an unpredictable, loose-cannon type in the Oval Office.  That we really need to start redefining John McCain.  Well, how about getting James Garner to do an ad called "Maverick." He's a big dem and seems like a genuine, nice guy. He could mention back in the day he used to be in a TV series called "Maverick" but that he really has had enough of cowboy politics. He could spotlight why McCain is "risky" and explain why he's for Obama. I know celeb endorsements are corny and probably don't mean that much, but this one might have a good enough hook to have some of the older demographic that might be supporting McCain by reflex to take another look.


looking the part - BAGnews

BAGnews has consistently interesting analysis of the visual media in reporting.

Yesterday the author noted (my emphasis):

"As both the first African-American candidate for president, as well as someone without a long legislative history or an established persona with the American public, the fundamental task of the Obama campaign -- as it would be with any other candidate with the same profile, regardless of his or her character -- has been to establish -- in fact and in feeling -- that Obama is equal to the job.  If you recall from the endless string of Democratic debates, one route Obama has taken to establish this has been through rhetoric.  I'd love to have a bill (one with Franklin's face on it, not Obama's), for example, for every time Obama finished a sentence by saying:  "... and that's why I want to be President of the United States," or "... and that's what I intend to do as President of the United States," or "... and we can make that happen when I'm the next President of the United States."

The point is, it has been completely logical and understandable, especially from early on, that Obama would identify and associate himself with the office at every opportunity.  And yes, that is exactly what Europe was about.

Given that logic then, it is fascinating to see how the difference between "entitlement" and "association" is playing out, if just at the level of text, phrasing and (considering McCain's just-released "The One" video sending up Obama as a presumed prophet) even typography.

Perhaps what really galls the opposition (and a lot of the media), however, is not just how Team Obama "religiously" associates the candidate to the office, but how easy and natural the linkage has been.  That being the case, perhaps that effectiveness has had a lot less to do with arrogance or entitlement  than with the candidate's poise, confidence and the air of inevitability (in dramatic contrast to the wayward opposition) from Obama fitting the part."


A wonderful post and intelligent discussion. Why are the poll numbers at Poblano so low?

Add comment

Our Policy on Comment Submissions: Co-publishers of Narco News (which includes The Narcosphere and The Field) may post comments without moderation. A ll co-publishers comment under their real name, have contributed resources or volunteer labor to this project, have filled out this application and agreed to some simple guidelines about commenting.

Narco News has recently opened its comments section for submissions to moderated comments (that’s this box, here) by everybody else. More than 95 percent of all submitted comments are typically approved, because they are on-topic, coherent, don’t spread false claims or rumors, don’t gratuitously insult other commenters, and don’t engage in commerce, spam or otherwise hijack the thread. Narco News reserves the right to reject any comment for any reason, so, especially if you choose to comment anonymously, the burden is on you to make your comment interesting and relev ant. That said, as you can see, hundreds of comments are approved each week here. Good luck in your comment submission!

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

User login


About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

RSS Feed