The Obama campaign was notable for many different things but the biggest, to my mind, was its ability to create and harness a huge amount of creative energy, idealism, and excitement among voters. Anyone remember the article that came out about the Obama "O" graphic and how it was refigured and appropriated by so many different groups? Anyone remember how easy it was to set up a web site, a fundraiser, a day of action, using the Obama campaign as a springboard? I held a fundraiser for Obama based on the theme "a new thing for an old thing" and had everyone bring something they wanted to get rid of and some money. Everyone who came donated their nice but unwanted article and their money and took home someone else's donation. We raised 1,500 dollars, IIRC. At Halloween we downloaded Obama's image and carved it on our pumpkin.
What happened to that enthusiasm and that creativity? If I fault the Obama administration for anything it is that they allowed all that sense of voter investment to die off. I don't have the sense that people watched the inauguration--the high point of my life, certainly--and thought "ok, now I can chill." People were hungry to be called to service, and to be trusted with stuff do to, but the Obama campaign put them out to pasture and only weakly appealed to them late in the Health Care Debate. I know because I stopped getting useful organizational materials and started getting annoying vague appeals to "support the president" by "calling my representatives" or donating money. Previously I could have discovered online groups pushing specific policy proposals, or asking me to go door to door with some kind of locally responsive action agenda.
As everyone in the bloggosphere knows a recent poll shows a huge drop in Democratic voter enthusiasm and a drop in people's intention to vote at all during the 2010 election. There are lots of reasons for this drop--I'm experiencing it myself though I will, of course, vote. But the main reason is that the Obama people decided that they could put the voters out to pasture between 2008 and 2010. Did it look like a really long time to Rahm and Axelrod? Too long to keep up the enthusiasm down ticket? Because it looks like a really short time, to me. In effect Obama and his team had one year to get stuff done to make people happy, and one year to let the Democratic Incumbents and Challengers try to reap the benefits at the local level. And that was just to stay even or get a slightly bigger majority to get more stuff done. In other words, as far as I can see, letting the Obama voter lose contact with, and ownership of, Obama's presidency was a really short sighted move.
Perhaps they did it because the cacophony of local, small time, democratic (small d) voices were too difficult for Obama to respond to in terms of policy, whether in detail or speed. Or perhaps they dropped their connection because the first few months Obama and Rahm were committed to demonstrating that they cared more about being beautifully conciliatory and bipartisan than ugly and partisan.
I hate to go for the sentiment but "in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make" goes double for political action. People are hungry to work with and for their own lives--the teabaggers are proof positive that people will heave themselves up out of their easy chairs, stand in the rain, wear silly clothing--if they feel that their political leaders are asking this sacrifice of them, and if they feel that they will be listened to if they do it. The Obama Administration, unlike the Obama campaign, has forgotten this simple fact and true: the more your trust and empower your supporters the more they are invested in you and your goals. Its a virtuous circle. Rather than assuming that the "grownups" were back in charge and that the agitators and voters and small fry should go into cryostorage until 2010 the Obama people should have allowed the original Obama supporters to continue to field organizers, actions, and ideas. If they'd done that we wouldn't be looking at this immense enthusiasm gap going in to the next election cycle.