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The Obama White House Calls in the Cavalry

Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was trailblazing in its ability to tap into a network of activists around the nation to help propel him to victory. His campaign does not seem to have ended. He is again reactivating this network, but this time it is not to help him get elected. Instead, he is rounding up the usual suspects to help him advance his legislative program. The never-ending campaign has already begun.

Greg Sargent reports that a private White House cocktail reception was recently hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama for leaders of major progressive groups:

[The Obamas] signaled that their groups would play a key role in driving the big progressive changes at the heart of the White House’s legislative agenda, an attendee tells me.

The message was that these groups would be valuable as a kind of progressive outside “echo chamber,” as the attendee puts it.

The party — which was organized by top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett — signals that the White House is moving forward with efforts to build coordination with outside progressive groups in order to drive the White House’s message and beat back its foes. As I reported recently, Jarrett is at the center of those efforts.

Included on the guest list were: Labor leaders Jimmy Hoffa and Andy Stern, MoveOn.org’s Eli Pariser, Sierra Club’s Carl Pope, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richardson, and Joe Solomonese of the Human Rights Campaign.

This should not come as a surprise.

Barack Obama began his career as a community organizer. Though he expressed frustration at what he was able to accomplish in this role and soon departed for Harvard Law School, he took with him an appreciation for what well-organized and motivated groups can do when they work together. This was revealed many times during the campaign. He was able to bring out volunteers en masse to work the neighborhoods for him. He certainly has brought community organizing into the modern age.

One of the key players on his team was Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook. He was able to use the internet as never before on behalf of the campaign. Of course, it was a masterstroke to announce his vice-presidential selection  via email only to those who submitted their email addresses. He now has a vast database of “troops” that he can call into action when conditions warrant, whether it be to make calls to congressmen, stage protests, or circulate leaflets. That kind of free labor is priceless. We will see much more of it in the days to come.

Of course, such labor is never entirely free. Posters, air time, ads, leaflets — all these come with a sticker price. We are not communists, after all. This is where another — higher — layer of activists comes into play.

Andy Stern is head of the Service Employees International Union, which is clearly one of the most astute, politically active, and well-funded of all unions. Stern has operated on the local, state, and federal levels when it comes to helping the campaigns of favored politicians. His union occasionally has mishaps: there is a corruption issue with the Los Angeles chapter and there were discussions involving the selling of Obama’s Senate seat in Illinois between a representative of his union and disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich. But he knows the ropes, which levers to pull, and he (along with fellow labor leader Jimmy Hoffa) is sitting on a treasure chests of funds. These chests will be replenished by virtue of the “stimulus bill.”

Stern has a close associate who receives very little attention. Anna Burger may be the most influential woman in the labor movement as hailed by Gannet. But her influence extends far beyond labor. She is a sharp political operator in charge of Change To Win, a group formed by a bevy of unions to use the political system to enrich laborers. She is also, along with Stern, one of the labor leaders involved in a very influential, if furtive, group known as the Democracy Alliance. This is an activist group on steroids with liberal-minded billionaires and mere centimillionaires behind them. The group brings together donors and political activists to fulfill a range of liberal goals. We may not see them — they don’t leave many fingerprints behind — but we will see what it is they will accomplish in the days ahead. They have a track record of success.

George Soros, hedge fund billionaire, is one of the main powers that be in the Democracy Alliance. He is also the most generous funder of 527 groups in the nation. These groups include MoveOn.org, whose leader Eli Pariser was one of the people who joined the Obamas at the White House. Moveon.org was the group responsible for the General BetrayUs ads that ran during the campaign which sought to impugn the reputation of the general behind the surge in Iraq.

Groups such as ACORN (which held classes in activism with Barack Obama as a teacher) might also have a place at the table. Fortunately, a provision that might have been used to enrich their coffers did not make it into the final stimulus bill. I am more inclined to believe that President Obama will not look towards ACORN to work his magic. He may not throw them under the bus, but now that he is president he may choose not to tarnish his reputation by working with a group that has a tarnished reputation of their own.

There are cleverer ways to bring about Change. The president knows them and he will use them.