Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is What is Good for a Campgain Really Good for the Bureaucracy?

Ok, I have opened my old mind enough to consider that new technologies can win elections. That seems clear in the Harvard Business School reading Barack Obama: Organizing for America 2.0. However, I’m still not sold that Organizing for America (OFA 2.0) is appropriate. Sure, was a tremendously effective Internet-based tool to mobilize and motivate campaign but once you take the oath and become President things change. Chris Hughes, who the article paints as the vision behind OFA 1.0, said so much when he said, “Join the ranks of people in suits and bad laptops? Not for me.”
It seems that Chris Hughes left because he had a negative perception of bureaucracy, but he was completely right. When Barack Obama became president the game changed. It was no longer a competition to first between Barack Obama and other Democratic Party rivals or against Republican nominee John McCain. Instead, the game changed from politicking to leadership and agenda setting. And it is a very different game; one I’m not so sure where the same strategy used for grassroots, Internet-based advocacy and mobilization leads to a win.

Once President, the game is no longer a competition but should be collaboration. As the top executive of the United States’ government, President Obama is looked upon as the person setting the agenda, as the leader of the hundreds of agencies and as a stakeholder in the legislative process. As the most powerful member of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, the candidate, is expected to be a team player helping the reelection campaigns of Democratic Party members in Congress. How can you have collaboration when your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is to use your highly crafted network of supporters to steamroll over those who disagree with your agenda?
I am not saying that is what President Obama did when he entered office, just that maybe he would have been more successful if he had not launched OFA 2.0. Having that kind of power in your back pocket can be just as intimidating as threatening to use it.


An article in the Washington Post this year echos my questioning of the transition of the into a quasi-bureaucratic website at


  1. Thank you Elizabeth! I learn a lot from your insightful view of points, as an outsider. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama does a good job to motivate his supporters to work for a better community either through a fantastic speech or social media platforms. The initiative idea for establishing OFA is to encourage down-top communication throughout society but somehow it turns to be a tool to conduct top-down lobbying.

    Considering that me personally have been so attracted to Obama's political charisma and his life-struggle stories, I can understand the fact Obama and his team take full advantage of every chance to ask for political support. However, I still believe that there should be at least one platform for grassroots to get their voice heard. A good leader should pay attention to not only ambitious goals, but local issues as well. I guess in this case Obama and his team have decided which one is the priority. After all each legislation passed could improve society as a whole...I hope this is the real case. :)

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  3. some interesting viewpoints u have there Elizabeth :) Although i agree with you that it is a whole different ball game transiting from candidate to president, and the "performance" of OFA2.0 has been kinda lacklustre so far... i tend to support the launch of OFA2.0 as an efficient means to leverage the "power of the people" that was already (and painstakingly) built up through Obama's candidacy. Perhaps the shortcoming of OFA2.0 in the process of harnessing the potential of the positive momentum for grassroots participation (rather than just support) in OFA was that it could've been better designed and implemented.

    we might anticipate very different, positive outcomes if the whys and hows of grassroots participation would have been redefined in the "new" bureaucratic processes of OFA2.0 as opposed to during OFA. i feel like they had started off well, with the polls and deciding on the goals of OFA2.0, but it wasn't followed through very well - where volunteers and staff had all the passion and interest to fulfill the new organizational goals, but were just clueless about how to do that in the new, more regulated context of the bureacracy. It's not to say that OFA2.0 would not or could not fulfill those goals, but rather, OFA2.0 as an organization did not re-org well enough to respond to its new goals. This would interestingly beg the question of leadership - was Chris Hughs not ABLE or not WILLING to apply himself and SM to the bureaucracy?

  4. Thanks to both comments. This has become an interesting dicussion.