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If You Find Waldo, Tell Him to Say “Hi” to OFA

Even though it was widely known that there would be massive pressure on members of Congress during the August recess, Organizing for America does not seem to have done much in the way of planning for the month.  On Sunday, August 9 they finally sent out an email asking supporters to request meetings with their representatives. 

The LAT talks about what OFA has done — or hasn’t done — with its 13 million member email list:

The network is powered by local volunteers who often have left-leaning goals. But the president, now that he is in office, has in many cases adopted a centrist approach that accommodates Republicans and business groups.

That means some activists are being asked to devote evenings and weekends to build support for policies they may feel only lukewarm about.

Last year, "Obama’s sexy, he was hot, and everybody wanted a piece of that," said Candice Davies, a speech therapist in Cary who trained canvassers for last year’s campaign and is trying to organize support for healthcare legislation. "Now, people are going to have to work for something that is not quite as slick or sexy."

Officials in charge of the network concede that opponents of the healthcare overhaul have been more organized than Democrats had expected.

What Democrats?  Who didn’t see this coming?  

Chellie Pingree on July 22 warned everyone from the floor of the House:

If we go home for recess without passing this bill, we will give special interests and their lobbyists five weeks to dump millions of dollars into ad campaigns that spread misinformation and fear and confusion. 

I wrote on July 23 when Obama himself urged the House to stay in session until they passed a health care bill:

The lobbyists plan to use the month to hammer House and Senate members with millions and millions of dollars in ads and hire Dick Armey to picket them.  We’ve heard over and over again from every single person we spoke with on the Hill on all sides that leaving is a disaster that will only make it harder to fight for a public plan, because well funded freak shows like this will be greeting members of Congress when they’re at home.

And from July 17, writing about Robert Wexler getting picketed by — you guessed it — Freedomworks:

Because of Wexler’s commitment to support a public plan, Dick Armey’s astroturf teabagging organization, Freedomworks, is picketing outside his Boca Raton office on behalf of a Republican who is running against him.

Look, it’s going to get rough out there for members of the House who are committed to holding the line against very well-funded opposition to healthcare reform, and the Dick Armeys are always going to be available to dispatch canned teabaggery to embarrass and smear them for their conviction.

HCAN and OFA, the two organizations that were tasked with conducting the ground battle, were well financed to engage in this battle by foundations, individual donors and every big liberal interest group in town.  That they were caught completely off guard is manifest.  It didn’t take the Amazing Kreskin to suss out what was going to happen.

But there is an even bigger problem:

Davies, the North Carolina speech therapist, said she attended a recent organizational meeting but left "without any clear script or anything to do."

Organizing for America "hasn’t contacted me with a really clear mission," Davies said. "If they came to my door and said, ‘Here are the 10 things we want you to do,’ then I’d probably do it."

One complication is that activists are being asked to sell an evolving plan; even Obama hasn’t committed to details.

The teabaggers know what they stand for.  The White House, in its desire to take credit for whatever passes and call it a "win," has remained deliberately vague.   Nobody wants to walk into the right wing meat grinder with a bunch of crazies over an issue as passionate as health care when the only thing they’re rallying around is a bunch of vague platitudes.

There’s only one thing that can fight back against big lobbying money, and that is popular support.  The failure of the President and his support organizations to inspire and mobilize those who want to support health care reform well in advance of this moment is short sighted almost beyond belief.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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