Tuesday, February 03, 2009

OFA and the difference between tactics and goals

"We’ll soon be asking you to give whatever time or talent you can to support the President."

That's what the email from Organizing for America said when I signed up. OFA is the organization that the Obama team is creating to keep the grassroots going now that the election is over. They have the email addresses of more than 10 million people, and they want those folks to help drive their agenda, rather than just disappear.

It makes sense for them. But what about for us?

I'm not "for" the president (nor "against" the president). I'm for a specific set of goals, like creating a more progressive tax structure, getting more people health care and ending US torture. I'm very glad that Obama beat McCain, because I think that made it more likely that some of my goals will become reality under Obama. I volunteered for Obama for this reason, and I'm glad I did.

I'm not in to the idea, though, of working "to support the President" as OFA says they will have people do. That's not my goal. At times when the president's agenda coincides with my agenda, I will support the president achieving his agenda. At times when the president's agenda is against my agenda, I will oppose the president in achieving his agenda.

My supporting Obama in the general election was a tactic as part of a larger view to achieve certain goals. That tactic is not relevant any more.

Obama and team have actually articulated that electing him president was not in itself the victory, the end goal, but rather a step in working toward a set of changes. That's exactly right.

With OFA, though, they're asking people to make a new goal: support whatever the President supports. That's the problem. I think it could be a sort of scary perversion of democracy.

Imagine if, say, Vladimir Putin had an official organized group of supporters who vowed, after the election, to "support the president". And imagine, no less, that Putin had already done some things that explicitly contradicted what he had campaigned for. I think if such a group existed (maybe it does? I don't know) and we heard about it, we'd think it was sort of scary.


American democracy has some pretty radical spots in it. There was a time when a lot of people were engaged in the issues of the day (less so now, but it could be far worse). I hope, as OFA hopes, that Americans will come back to the idea of democracy being about civic engagement that is far more than just going to the voting booth. But I really hope folks will be engaged in a way other than "I'm for whatever the president is for."


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