His Real Constituency


A reader chimes in …

I don’t share the sense of panic expressed by some Obama supporters over his approach to the stimulus package. If the campaign taught us anything, it’s that Obama is willing to invest in strategies that only yield dividends in the long term. I suspect his careful cultivation of the GOP side of the aisle is closely akin to his caucus strategy; it may require a lot of time and effort before it produces a payoff, but if he can pick off votes and limit rancor, it will be well worth the investment.

But I have been surprised that Obama has not done more to make his case directly to voters. Creative and constant communication was always a hallmark of his campaign. Its website, for example, featured a tax calculator, with which voters could find out just how much they would save. Why isn’t there a similar site now, so that Americans can see what Obama wants to give them, and what every Republican just voted against?

Or how about a little java applet that can take in a ZIP Code and spit out an estimate of the number of jobs the package will create or save within fifty miles? Or a ticker of e-mails sent to Congress in support of the bill?

The downside to overwhelming popularity is that it can produce a false sense of confidence. Electoral support can never be assumed; it must constantly be pursued. Conducting five sit-down interviews is a nice first step. But it’s not enough. Obama should be using every available outlet to take his case directly to voters, to illustrate to them just how this package stands to impact their lives – and he hasn’t. That’s my
real frustration.

The reader’s point about the long view is well-taken. Obama’s mix of steel and patience are two of his key virtues.

But I have been surprised that he has not chosen yet to play more to, and get out among, his real constituency — particularly on this bill — the people. This is about them. 10 or 15 thousand people are losing their jobs every day at the moment. Half a million people a month. It would not be hard to find — and I can’t believe they’re not thinking about it already — lots of communities around the country where some version of this bill would provide critical, immediate and sustained relief to lots of people. In fact, you’d likely find one almost anywhere you put your finger down on the map.

When political battles are entirely bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue, back and forths between the White House and the Hill, presidents can become just one player among many, cut off from their real source of power. And the whole nature of the debates can get rapidly disconnected from the realities actually people are experiencing in the country. Presidents are powerful when they have a national constituency behind them. Washington is a dark place, eager to trip all this up.


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.