On Friday morning, I asked, “Will Obama mobilize his millions?” By that, I meant would he activate the 13 million or so Americans who had signed up with his campaign in order to pass the stimulus bill. Organizing for America, the spin-off of the Obama presidential campaign, is holding house parties on the weekend to discuss the recovery package. But Obama has yet truly to unleash his supporters. His push for the economic bill has not had much of a grassroots component.
On Friday afternoon, I was able to ask White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about this. First, I inquired if President Obama wanted the folks attending the weekend house meetings to pressure members of Congress to support the stimulus bill. (As of this writing, the bill, which had passed the House, was heading toward a vote in the Senate. After that, the two versions will have be reconciled and a final version approved by both chambers.) Gibbs replied with something of a platitudinous reply, noting that the president always encourages citizens to be involved in their government.
I followed up by noting that when Ronald Reagan came to Washington in 1981, determined to pass an economic package of tax cuts and draconian cuts in social programs, he delivered multiple televised addresses and urged his supporters to call their members of Congress and demand passage of this legislation. The phones on Capitol Hill lit up; the legislation was passed–over the objections of the leaders of the Democratic-controlled House. Would President Obama, I asked Gibbs, make a similarly explicit call. “We’ll ask those who support him…to move this economy forward,” Gibbs said.
In other words, maybe.
Why hasn’t the Obama White House already directly engaged its supporters in this fight? After all, Obama has repeatedly said this is the number-one priority of his administration. Perhaps Obama aides initially thought that it would not be necessary to call in its troops. If so, that was a miscalculation on at least two counts. First, it does seem that Obama will have to show some political muscle to get this bill all the way through Congress. Second, whether or not the Obama White House needed its supporters to win this thing, it would have been smart for the White House to have involved its backers in its first–and most important–initiative. That would give these people a sense of ownership. And what could be a better way of keeping those millions (and others) engaged than by scoring a victory in a significant policy and political battle? (Now, it’s on to health care, everybody!)
It’s not too late for Obama to send for the people who helped get him elected. This coming week, he will be expanding his outreach efforts. He will hold a prime-time news conference on Monday night. And early in the week, he will travel to Elkhart, Indiana, and Fort Myers, Florida, to conduct town hall meetings to whip up support for the recovery package. Activating the 13 million names on his list and those who attend the house meetings on the weekend would easily fit into the White House’s new game plan.
Gibbs’ non-answer to my question suggests that White House want to keep Obama above the political fray and not make it seem as if he’s not resorting to political pressure to win passage of the stimulus legislation. But there’s nothing wrong with political pressure. And there’s nothing wrong with dancin’ with the ones who brought ya. Obama came to the White House with–and because of–millions of supporters. In a town about which Harry Truman once supposedly said (but really didn’t), “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” having millions of friends by your side cannot hurt. It might even make life a little easier.