Ed Driscoll

The Obama Voters' Disconnect

In the Washington Examiner, Mark Tapscott links to Micah Sifry’s article in TechPresident titled, “The Obama disconnect: What happens when myth meets reality” and brings his own center-right interpretation to the liberal journalist’s essay:

Sifry summarizes the difference between the truth and the myth at the outset of his post, noting “the truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied.

“And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn’t happen, in the first year of Obama’s administration. The people who voted for him weren’t organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests–banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex–sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting.”

Sifry dismisses the myth that Obama campaign used the Internet to attract legions of volunteers who were then empowered to do more indpendently of the traditional central campaign headquarters, saying “nor, it is clear, was Obama’s campaign ever really about giving control to the grassroots. As Zephyr Teachout wrote here a while back, the campaign shared tasks with its supporters but didn’t share power.

“In some notable cases, volunteers were given substantial responsibilities in the field, and access to more data than would typically be shared by most top-down organizations. But in terms of empowering anyone, Obama’s campaign structure empowered its managers more than anyone else.”

Understand that Sifry is a man of the Left, not the Right. He’s a co-founder of the PDF and is editor of Tech President. He’s also been instrumental in helping grow the Sunlight Foundation and the proliferation of important New Media-focused groups it has spawned like the Open House Project that are devoted to encouraging greater transparency and accountability in government through the Internet and related technologies.

I’ve argued since before Obama took the oath of office for the presidency that a seismic upheaval would hit the Obama administration once the reality of its bureaucratic top-down mentality became painfully clear to those who thought the new president would use the Internet to transform the relationship between citizen and government by decentralizing authority while elevating the wisdom of the crowd in policy and decision-making.

In the Dec. 29, 2008, column linked in the preceding paragraph, I predicted the upheaval would be inspired by the Obamacare debate:

“My hunch is that moment will come on the health care issue sometime in the next two years. Since his election victory in November, Obama and his key health care advisors have made it clear he plans to move toward a Medicare-like national health plan, with government bureaucrats running the health care system for everybody. That’s classic 20th century, top-down centralized, big government liberalism.

“The problem is that, while this approach satisfies old guard liberal special interests like federal bureaucrats, trial lawyers and labor unions, it puts Obama on the wrong side of the Net-Geners at the heart of his campaign who provided its technological sophistication and youthful idealism.

“Net-Geners view the world through a different lens. Because they’ve grown up in a digital world, the workplace values they most esteem include ‘speed, freedom, openness, innovation, authenticity and playfulness,’ according to Tapscott and Williams. [Reference here is to ‘Wikinomics’ by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. No, Don Tapscott and I are not related, at least not that we know of].

“It won’t take Obama’s younger troops long to realize there can never be any room whatsoever for such values in an expanded federal health care bureaucracy overseen by a new Federal Health Board. I mean, come on, speed or innovation from bureaucrats who typically require a minimum of 18 months just to develop one new regulation?”

In short, those who expected digital-driven liberation would rebel when they realzed they are instead getting toxic doses of thoroughly old-style command-and-control government and policies. Sifry’s post could be an early tremor warning that just such an upheaval is coalescing on the political horizon.

These folks worked for Obama believing he would usher in fundamental, digital-driven democratic change; instead they find themselves shunted off the sidelines, used at best as PR props for White House messaging by old-school liberal politicians and by former Obama digital campaign higher ups like David Plouffe who sold out to them. And they don’t like it at all.

Something of a hint of as much is suggested by Sifry’s summary observation that he believes “when the full history of Obama’s presidency is written, scholars may decide that his team’s failure to devote more attention to reinventing the bully pulpit in the digital age, and to carrying over more of the campaign’s grassroots energy, may turn out to be pivotal to evaluations of Obama’s success, or failure, as president.”

Given that Obama holds himself out as a successor to the early 20th century leftwing American “progressives”, and similarly, was routinely praised by the establishment media as the second coming of FDR, why on earth would his supporters have thought that he would have governed in any way differently from his bureaucratic, corporatist, command-and-control inspirations? His public image may have been youthful and innovative, but his governing style is decades out of date.

Related: “Obama’s Secret Power Base:”

Rather than the “good old boys,” Obama’s core group hails from what may be best described as the “creative class”—the cognitive elite, or, to borrow from the Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Postindustrial Society, the “the hierophants of the new society.” They come not from traditional productive industry, but the self-conscious “knowledge” sectors—such as financial services, the software industry, and academia.

From early on, Barack Obama attracted big-money people like George Soros, Warren Buffett, and JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon far more effectively than his opponents in either party. As The New York Times’ Andrew Sorkin put it back in April, “Mr. Obama might be struggling with the blue-collar vote in Pennsylvania, but he has nailed the hedge-fund vote.”

I’m not exactly sure if that’s a secret — if Obama is governing like the typical mid-20th century man in the gray flannel suit bureaucrat, Kevin D. Williamson noted way back in March that he locked up the votes of the men in the blue pinstripes; yet another example of corporatism — and its accompanying liberal kabuki dances — to the fore.