Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Organization (A Political Post)

Around about 10:30 last night, some CNN babblehead remarked that Barack Obama would take office with a new weapon at his disposal "his vast army of campaign contributors and workers." Made it sound like Marshal Zhukov had them ready to storm the Reichstag.

Then I remembered. I was in the vast army. I gave the President-elect 25 bucks. I worked phone banks last weekend, struggling for mutual comprehension with North Carolinians as baffled by my accent as I was with theirs.

No group with me in it is a "vast army." The people I worked with last weekend weren't a monolithic bunch, either. Truth is, as is common in political journalism, the justified admiration for Obama's campaign has generated a massive amount of bullshit. The "New Technology" didn't make the thing run-just practical politics as practiced by Chicagoans since they built the place. Abraham Lincoln's campaign managers would have recognized it instantly.

Politics ain't beanbag, they say. It ain't rocket science, either. People get involved in politics because they want to make a contribution to something they believe in. And when they do, they like a little appreciation from their team.

One day later, I wait for the final vote from North Carolina. I was maybe one-one trillionth of the effort of Team Obama there. But I got my uniform dirty, so I care. And last night, around 11 p.m. I and three million other donors got a mass personal email - with a first name greeting - from the President-elect, beginning "I'm just getting ready to walk over to Grant Park."

I've been around. I know it was probably written in July by some Northwestern grad student and kept in a file along with the "we didn't quite make it" email until it was sent at the proper moment. But you better believe it went into the "saved mail" category. Like forever.

The Internet makes it possible for a pol to communicate with and manage millions of people. That's a difference in scale, not degree. Obama's operating principle was the same as any good South Side precinct captain's. Ask people to help you. When they ask what they can do, make sure there is something. When they help you, let them feel your gratitude.

The Obama campaign won on an idea older than he, Chicago, and the United States of America, from a culture as old as ours is young.

"When the wise leader's work is done," said Lao tse, "the people say "we did it ourselves."


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