The Strategy

By Al Giordano

 

Summer in the United States is a dreadful time to be a political candidate, consultant, ad-maker, press secretary, policy analyst, fundraiser - or for that matter political reporter or blogger - because the news cycles slow to comatose with the breezeless so-thick-you-can-cut-a-knife-through-it August air.

All those people are dependent on public attention to get anything done at all. But teachers and students are on summer vacation, as are so many members of the professional classes that feed media crises and scandals during the rest of the year. Their email accounts are on automatic response: "I will be out of the office until...." Every man and woman's life and property is safe, to paraphrase Mark Twain, because Congress is out of session. Even talk radio hosts are merely "phoning it in" this time of year, taking Fridays and Mondays off, grabbing those days of respite and calm that are so elusive for most of the rest of the year.

And for the many that can't afford a summer home or even a long weekend away - that struggling majority that the media doesn't care about anyway - the schools aren't available to baby-sit the kids, there's no air conditioner to help beat the heat, the pollen and the smog, those that live in tourist towns are working sunrise to sunset or waiting tables or bartending all night, there are weeds to be pulled and grass to be cut and arid fields to be irrigated: for the America that doesn't have a summer home, these months bring even harder work and longer hours.

As a result, it's impossible to focus national public attention on almost anything, no matter how prurient or scandalous: if you're going to get caught by tabloid stalkers with the mother of your love child in a Beverly Hills hotel, this is the perfect time of year to do it: nobody notices, and those few that notice don't give a damn. By Labor Day it will already be old news.

But there is one task that matters in US politics this time of year, the job done by volunteers and unsung professionals alike: field organizing. And this year, in 2008, as E.J. Dionne points out, registering new voters from the 56 million that are eligible and don't vote can put the calcified Electoral College map out of its misery and rebirth it anew:

 

...the evidence is overwhelming that this year, the young really will vote in large numbers -- and they just might tip the election.

The trend started four years ago. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, electoral participation among 18- to 24-year-olds rose from 36 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2004. For the larger 18 to 29 group, participation rose from 40 percent to 49 percent.

The 2006 midterm election saw a larger increase in off-year voting among the under-30s than any other age group.

Then came this year's primaries: According to CIRCLE, the turnout rate for the under-30s nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008, from 9 percent to 17 percent.

...on present trends, it's a near certainty that young people's overall share of the electorate will rise substantially this year.

 

Have you noticed how many of the political pundits are writing columns this season along the lines of "why aren't the polls moving?" and trying to squeeze some meaning out of it like one last drop of Budweiser from a US-made can? Well, its summer, dumbasses. Public opinion in presidential politics never moves until the conventions are held and herald the beginning of the fall, with its crisper brisk air, death-tolling school bells and the return of a well-rested scandal-mongering media corps to its cubicles and cauldrons of toil and trouble.

But while America has been on autopilot, the few (well, maybe not so few) and the proud (some might say "arrogant" or "uppity!") - those crazy and cocky field organizers - are the ones out there making history.

Last week, The Field brought you the scoop of how the Obama campaign plans to use the Democratic National Convention and the millions of viewers it will attract in late August as the stepping-off-point for a massive national voter registration drive.

Since then we have learned that it has plopped down $5 million dollars for a national television ad buy during the Olympic games: the messaging will surely be tied into the call for those 56 million missing voters to come home and overwhelm the system. The Denver Post broke some news yesterday: Anybody that wants one of 60,000+ available tickets for Obama's Mile High Stadium acceptance speech on August 28 (forty-five years to the day of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" oratory) can buy them only with sweat, by registering new voters.

 

In a half-hour interview Wednesday with The Denver Post, Obama's deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, said he wants to use the ticketing process as a massive recruitment tool meant to bring in supporters from all 50 states and energize them to carry the campaign into the final 60 days of the general election.

 

"We're going to ask those 80,000 people in that stadium to march out of there and go with very specific instructions and goals to register millions of new voters," Hildebrand said.

 

And this just came into my email box (and maybe yours, too). It's specific to the New York zip code I typed when they made me give one last year when I signed up to receive alerts from the Obama campaign:

 

If you're ready to take the next step, you are invited to attend a two-day Camp Obama training session near you.

 

Camp Obama is back: the summer camp for those that can't afford summer camp!

 

Camp Obama trainings offer a unique, in-depth look at the strategies and techniques that have driven this campaign.

These two-day sessions, to be held August 22nd - 23rd, are led by experienced Obama campaign staffers and other professional organizers who are eager to empower dedicated supporters like you.

After completing a camp session, attendees will be asked to fill essential volunteer positions in battleground states -- these are demanding roles, but they are a vital part of our election strategy.

Supporters with experience in community organizing or political campaigns are strongly encouraged to apply. But the only requirement is that you support Barack and be ready to turn your enthusiasm and energy into action.

Here are some of the skills you'll learn at Camp Obama:

-   Tactics that will help you creatively and effectively organize voters

-   Tips to increase the visibility of the campaign in your area

-  Keys to mobilizing other volunteers to join our movement

 

(Don't dawdle, Field Hands: In other regions the training sessions will be held August 15 and 16.)

Yep, while you're out there complaining about the heat, swatting flies, and listening to pundits try to ruffle your Chicken Little feathers, there's an army forming over hill and dale. (Best of all, and bwahahaha, it is also training thousands with the skills to hammer and hold its candidate accountable after he's elected, something that complaining activist critics of all-things-electoral have failed to do, on this scale, for decades. How's that for irony?)

Anytime I speak to Obama Fellows or active volunteers (which is daily, and from all corners of the country; I'm their off-the-record pen pal and secret decoder ring buddy and I'll be yours, too: narconews@gmail.com) I ask how they are spending their days and nights. "Registering voters," is the universal response. Then I ask for numbers. Typically, no matter in what part of the United States they are organizing, they have already signed up an average of three times more new voters than signed up in all of 2004 in their counties or municipalities. This is the big untold story of the summer of 2008. (This autumn is going to bring a royal headache for political pollsters who, even for the very few that want to measure this X factor, will find it difficult to weight accurately in their numbers crunching activities.)

For all of you that have been asking me to tell you what is really happening in the presidential election, for once you haven't come to the best source: go to "camp" instead. In your town or city, people are forming up posses and knocking on doors by day and even trawling bars and clubs by night - how can that not be fun? - hunting down the 56 million missing American voters and signing them up. Those that have spent even just one day or night doing it are not worrying or fretting about November. They know more than the pundits and professionals have a clue.

You do not want to end this summer without being able to say that you went out there, even if just once or twice, and were one of the many that, outside of the media's radar screen, changed the game. After all, why stay home and watch the Olympics when you yourself can go for the gold? It's a medal you'll wear with pride for the rest of your days, being able to look in the mirror - at last! - and say: I made history.

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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