Barack Obama’s election campaign runs on and on
IN 1980 Sidney Blumenthal published a book entitled “The Permanent Campaign”. One of the main reasons that Barack Obama beat Mr Blumenthal’s favoured candidate, Hillary Clinton, was because he promised a new kind of post-partisan politics, supposedly above all that continual warfare. Now that the election is over, however, he is proving to be just as keen on the “permanent campaign” as anybody else in politics.
Mr Obama is currently deploying the formidable resources he built up during his campaign—including contact details for 10m donors, supporters and volunteers—to sell his policies. David Plouffe, the man who managed Mr Obama’s presidential campaign, has sent millions of e-mails to encourage them to support the White House’s agenda.
One of them contains as good a definition of the permanent campaign as any: “In the next few weeks we’ll be asking you to do some of the same things we asked of you during the campaign—talking directly to people in your communities about the president’s ideas for long-term prosperity.” Another, which includes a video of the president, asks supporters to put pressure on their congressman to pass Mr Obama’s budget, by calling his or her office and reciting a little pro-Obama speech.
Mr Obama frequently looks like a man in campaign mode. He has delivered a striking number of speeches in swing states which he needs to retain in 2012, for example. Democratic pressure groups are also fuelling the campaign atmosphere. MoveOn.org has sent millions of e-mails talking up Mr Obama’s budget as “ambitious, amazing and unapologetically progressive”.
Apart from singing the virtues of the president’s policies, his allies are also busy demonising the other side. The aim is to present the Republicans as the party of “no” and as the puppet of unpopular figures such as Rush Limbaugh. When Dick Cheney suggested, on March 15th, that Mr Obama’s policies were making the country less safe, Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, immediately shot back: “Well, I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next-most-popular member of the Republican cabal.”
Why is Mr Obama abandoning one of his central election pledges? Partly because he is surrounded by hard-nosed strategists, such as David Axelrod, who excel at campaigning. But also because he is worried about his political momentum. The administration’s difficulties with various nominees have created an unfortunate impression of incompetence. His poll numbers are sliding. And the combination of pork-stuffed legislation and scandal-riven bail-outs threatens to create a populist backlash.