Politics & Policy

Obama, the Money Wizard

Old Left rhetoric meets New Media networking.

Most of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits. We know how high-flying words can be deployed in the service of cynical aims, and how the noblest sentiments can be subverted in the name of power, expedience, greed, or intolerance. — Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, p. 8.

During this campaign season, Barack Obama has raised such unprecedented mountains of cash that he has broken every record in the annals of political fundraising. It’s enough to make him appear a veritable money wizard. If his own “high-flying words” are being “deployed in the service of cynical aims,” his contributors don’t seem aware of it, and the cash keeps rolling in.

But just as Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man discovered on their trip down the yellow brick road to Oz, what looks like wizardry to the masses might turn out to be just a little lever-pulling and tricky stunts. Pulling back the curtain on Obama’s fundraising prowess reveals some interesting tactics that could definitely be regarded as shrewd, the kind of tactics known especially by “slick admen.” Wizardry? No. There’s much more cunning here than magic.

Wanting to know what kind of tactics were behind Obama’s amazing fundraising feats, I signed up early to be a “friend” of Obama’s and began receiving his e-mail correspondence almost daily. Obama’s face, of course is ubiquitous; there are always pictures included in the e-mails asking for cash. Many of them also include links to video of the candidate’s latest “personal” appeal for help in defeating the “principalities and powers” that supposedly have a “lock” on America. These visuals, I’m told by my 22 year-old daughter, are essential for today’s youth, who have minimal tolerance for books without pictures. But it takes more than a few video clips to gain the allegiance of a fickle public. What else is at work here?

The Alinsky Self-Interest Doctrine

Self-interest is based a good deal on the law of the jungle, and certainly the survival of the fittest does not lend itself to thinking and acting according to co-operative, and self-sacrificing for-the-other-guy philosophy. Yet this seeming obstacle can be and has been used as one of the most driving motive forces in the development of a co-operative organization. — Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, p. 95

Alinsky coined a name for his self-interest doctrine; he called it “greed for good.” He wrote his first book, Reveille for Radicals, in 1946 and didn’t publish his follow-up manual for the bloodless revolution, Rules for Radicals, until 1971. Much had changed in America during that 25-year interval, and Alinsky had refined his methods somewhat, but he never wavered from his goal of revolutionary “change.”

Every appeal for money that Obama sends out carries the tone of the valiant underdog determined to succeed, not for himself or his own power aspirations, but for the “movement” of the “people.” No matter how many wins Obama racks up, no matter how much cash he has on hand, every single appeal is framed as part of the “people’s struggle.” And he isn’t doing this for himself; he’s not even doing it for America. He’s doing it for them. His audacious candidacy, he tells his followers, is not like the power grabs of a low-roader, attempted for “power, expedience, greed or intolerance.” No, his is “greed for good.” The good of all. And most especially the good of his “partners” in the movement.

But what exactly is in it for them? What is Obama selling to his contributors that causes them to open their wallets and whip out those Visa cards over and over again?

Obama has appropriated one of the most successful ad campaigns in the history of American advertising and revived it for a voting bloc that has probably never heard of it. The old Prudential tagline from the 1950s and 60s, “Own a piece of the rock,” has become “Own a piece of the Movement,” or sometimes “Own a piece of this campaign.”

This sort of clever manipulation was at the heart of Alinsky-style “community organizing” in the interest of revolutionary change. He taught, through his books and seminars for radical acolytes, how to convince the common folks that the organizer was merely their tool, willingly offering his own time and service so that they could succeed in throwing off the yoke of their masters. This, Alinsky taught, would ingratiate the organizer with the ones he needed to organize.

Alinsky showed how Marxism would take over America, not through violence, but by organizing the power of the vote. Power came from two sources in American society, Alinsky believed: Money and people. If one lacks money, one uses people. Different means, same end. In fact, it was Alinsky himself who advised ‘60s radicals to eschew violence for law degrees and politics. Writing Rules for Radicals a year after the intense riots that accompanied the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Alinsky advised patience, persistence, and working within the system:

Dostoevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. — Rules for Radicals, p. xix

The last 40 years have been merely the prelude, it would seem, to Obama’s candidacy. He’s the man of whom Alinsky and his Marxist acolytes dreamed.

The leftist network within the mainstream media and the various blogs of the 527s has blared a constant message for the past eight years, bashing Bush, Bush’s war, Bush’s economy, Bush’s failures to the people, all to set the stage for the political savior, who has now emerged. The people indeed seem ready for the revolutionary “change” that Alinsky foretold.

Go network, young man

If anyone wonders why college campuses are agog with Barack Obama, why the youth are falling all over themselves in their rush to join the movement, one need look no further than to the guru of Facebook, Chris Hughes. Hughes became a full-time member of the campaign early on, and his intimate knowledge of the social network he co-invented has helped Obama accumulate not only all that cash, but more than a million “friends” as well.

Want to get tens of thousands of people to show up at an Obama rally? Go to MyBarackObama.com and tell all your “friends” about it. What may look like magic is just an updated version of: “I’m going. Are you? Everyone who’s anyone will be there.”

Alinsky himself pioneered a non-tech form of this type of manipulation, urging his organizers to use social self-interest as a way to bolster attendance at meetings. But while the Alinsky method involved corralling the most popular community members as leverage, Facebook allows “friends” to connect with “new friends” with the touch of a button, without even having to get out of bed.

For those under 30, Facebook is the high-tech version of the burger joint and the cruising strip of earlier decades, with seemingly limitless possibilities for connecting with other like-minded folks. Using this social network for political power is an Obama first. While Howard Dean used the power of the blogs to temporarily boost his candidacy in 2004, Hughes has created a firestorm of campus support for Obama with a social network that elevates the trivial and encourages the many small contributions that add up to record-breaking numbers.

It’s all in the network; no wizardry here. Just lever-pulling.

Facebook is designed around the shallow and social. Networkers are not “commentators,” as they would be on a blog; they are “friends.” Friends do not need to agree on ideas; they just need to like the same kind of music. Friends do no need to agree on ways to improve society; they just need to like a candidate’s cadence, his body, or his clothes.

As each day of this campaign passes, it becomes more and more like 1968, with the generation gap between young and old emerging as the factor of difference between our candidates. Obama is the Facebook candidate, and he has an awful lot of folks merrily following his yellow brick road. It may lead to the White House, I fear, and Obama may become our very first Wizard in Chief.

Kyle-Anne Shiver is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.

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