History will record the brief American intoxication with the Obama Audacity Campaign a reckless gamble. Strategically, the Campaign had two components necessary for success. The first was to overwhelm and penetrate Republican/Movement ranks with the power of personality to seize control of American government in 2008. The second, assuming opponents’ psychological surrender, was to govern by verbosity, intention and situational accommodation via the existence of a wholly undefined ‘new politics’.
That Campaign failed. Its second phase rout fueled the seemingly impossible: Obama re-energized, strengthened and then mainstreamed the most radical Movement elements. From being mere marginalized ghosts gnawing on themselves in the shadows 3 years ago Obama planted their radicalism firmly in the center-most heart of American politics. It is a catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions.
The Audacity Campaign’s core failure is that its second phase, successful control of government and validation through re-election, was non-sensical from the outset. The entire venture’s success would be possible only if its opponents agreed to cooperate, stand down and join the so-called ‘new politics’. Audacity meant Obama never controlled his victory conditions, nor his future (and the Nation’s).
The importance of this ‘new politics’ to the Audacity Campaign is almost always overlooked by political pundits. In phase two Obama did not intend to govern as a traditional political figure. But neither he (nor his advisors who asked for more crises) thought to ask why would political opponents so recently defeated cooperate in their further eclipse? Naturally no contingency plans laid out.
From its earliest beginning the Audacity technique eschewed traditional Democratic institutions, process and Republicans. Relying on semi-autonomous, independent networks, the Campaign acquired speed, improvisational organization and agility in sharp distinction to ‘establishment’ entities like the HRC campaign. Implicit in the organizing meme of Audacity was the notion of ‘new politics’. Shapeless and content free, hope and change were the perfect battering rams for the time of economic and governmental crisis. Audacity explicitly channeled energies tapped by its non-tradtional identity to the individual rather than party or affiliation.
Long time readers of this blog immediately recognize in the above some superficial resemblance to Audacity’s eventual Movement foe. Unlike the Movement, however, the Audacity Campaign avoided firm commitment to ideological orthodoxies. As noted, its reliance on personal brand mirrored the Latin American examples of caudillo. The ‘new politics’ were to be discernible by the actions and mostly words of the Obama brand persona. His lack of sustained accomplishment becomes an asset. He’s a bi-pedal blank slate. From today’s vantage point? Those projecting their own neediness onto that emptiness might feel both hoodwinked and deserved shame now.
Initially an Audacity Campaign proved its mettle. Victory over HRC appeared to validate the Audacity technique. The semi-autonomous networks game Obama the flexibility to out fox the comparatively lumbering HRC construct. Her COIN, if you will — too little, too late.
The 2008 general election seemingly re-confirmed the Audacity Campaign approach. Key warning signs, however, were ignored. Separation from McCain began really in mid September and only after McCain’s own erratic behavior (suspending his campaign, resuming it, etc.) and the Lehman bankruptcy. In other words, after 8 years of a now (2008) universally despised Administration, 2 failed wars, global economic collapse and perhaps the worst candidate since Bob Dole, Audacity alone was insufficient. It required McCain, his implosion and economic disaster to boost Audacity to the finish line. Astute observers noted at the time this actual vulnerability. Obama thus entered his governing phase and his ‘new politics’ weaker than he seemed. ‘New’ or ‘post-partisan’ politics might not have so accommodating foes.
We know what happens next. Two key points should be made. The first is the Obama Administration inexplicable decision to disarm unilaterally after the election; terminating active cultivation of its semi-autonomous networks tossed away its core political strength. This would come back to haunt them. This decision also rendered promulgation of the ‘new politics’ even more problematic. Second, the Obama Administration failed to compensate for this self-negation by fashioning alternative deep and lasting connection either with institutional allies on Capitol Hill or its typical ideological base. Its political isolation entirely self-imposed.
The Audacity Campaign became a paper tiger. The political novices around the Administration (with the exception of one congressman, etc.) remained oblivious.
The corporate astro-turfing in February-March 2009 should have sent a strategic warning that the Audacity Campaign was in the balance. The Movement declared in essence there would be no new politics, or post-whatever American Man (Woman, Child, Zygote). By August 2009 the now coalescing Movement launched its first major counter-attack, disrupting nationally Democratic majority incumbents’ town halls. The now fully channelled passions of fear, anger, resentment and rejection the clearest signal yet that Audacity’s serene detachment and the premise of a new kind of politics hare brained. Moreover, the Movement studied the Audacity Campaign and attacked its key (and now only) asset – the personal brand. The significance of the Movement’s achievement is underscored by the fact that many complaining of developments focus on the ‘Tea Party’ not realizing how radicalized the so-called traditional conservatives have become.
This would be a new kind of political warfare. With mass institutional resources deploying wedge issues loaded with emotional C4 this new kind of campaign would be a test of will and commitment. Unlike the diaphanous serendipity of an Audacity Campaign’s rhetorical flourish, the Movement aligned mass formations inside and outside government to wear down their opponent. Only then, then the issue appears to be exhausted (or a deal falling apart) will the Movement unleash fresh radicalism to exploit the breakthrough, roaming into the Obama (and all non-Rightists’) strategic depth. Health care taught the Movement how to play defense. Nov. 2010 allowed them to switch to the offense.
Astonishingly, the Obama Administration’s strategic intelligence utterly missed these clear signs. From Sept. 2009-October 2010 Obama as political actor largely disengaged from role as leader of a political party. His Press Secretary openly laughed about ‘the House might go’ in the Summer and Fall 2010. On the day-to-day issue matters, Obama governed as if his hoped for ‘new politics’ existed, agreeing to compromise and accommodation. At no time did Obama seek to create and nurture the tectonic political allies and forces necessary to meet the Movement’s innovations.
The Movement’s trap for Obama over the manufactured debt ‘crisis’ clearly marks Audacity in defeat. Going forward, Obama’s personal brand is in tatters. (He’s done more to undermine himself than the Movement itself, actually). A recent volte face to reach out to former ad hoc grass roots networks yielding so far tepid returns. Willing (as opposed to dutiful) institutional allies on the Hill and elsewhere are scant. All this apart from the optics imposed by economic circumstance. His billion dollar re-election is “Obama sucks less”. Meanwhile, Obama shows no signs of being able to stem a resurgent radicalism determined in its furthest imagination to repeal the Enlightenment and liberal democratic pluralism.
Any non-Rightist would be concerned. Fighting a skillful mobile retreat is one of the hardest military operations to conduct. Little reason to *hope* Obama in retreat is any better as field marshal. Often an advancing foe will over extend themselves or otherwise make a mistake. (Think Winter 1943 and Kharkov). We should avoid the temptation to plan on that hope. Avoid the Audacity Campaign’s mistake. Make our own fate instead.
We need to begin thinking through and planning for the post-Obama world. With whatever is left. Starting now.