Barack Obama: Book Review: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Four: Politics. (Pluses And Minuses Of Political Life.)

January 19, 2012 by
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Obama discusses the problems and joys of political life. He doesn’t pull any punches in this chapter so if you are thinking of running for office read carefully.

He says his favorite activity as a Senator is a town meeting where he gets to meet with the voters and discuss issues with them. However if you are running a state wide campaign the only efficient way to reach the voters with your message is by television. Running for a state senator cost about $100,000; running for U.S. Senator requires a state wide campaign and that means television of necessity. When he first ran for Federal Senator, David Axelrod, his political advisor, told him in a state like Illinois that would cost $5,000,000 for the primary and ten to fifteen million for the main race at a minimum.

You cannot raise this kind of money by cold calling prospective donors for $2000.00. It requires backing by large interest groups like unions for him or the Chamber of Commerce for Republicans. Their support usually comes with strings. If what they want fits with your beliefs, fine, if it doesn’t then problems arise and you may be a one term Senator when they throw their support to someone else in the next election. (In this chapter Obama doesn’t discuss the impact of the internet on fund raising although the prior campaign of Governor Howard Dean, who ran in the primary for nomination for Presidency, relied almost entirely on internet generated funding. He raised over 50 million dollars as well as organizing his campaign through internet groups like Meet Up.  We also know John Kerry raised a substantial a amount through the internet. Yet big donors were the major factors in both Bush’s and Kerry’s campaigns)

After winning the primary Obama was lucky enough to run against a deep pocket Republican who looked like real trouble but had to drop out because of a scandal. The Republican Party pulled a last minute candidate from another state whose views were so off point that Obama coasted to victory.

Once you are a Senator the narrower your interactions become. Instead of town meetings you meet with lobbyists, heads of PACs or representatives of interest groups because of time considerations and  these are the people who can raise the kind of money needed to stay in office. Also you need the backing of groups that have organizations in place that can help you campaign; for Democrats it means the unions, pro-choice groups and the environmentalists; for Republicans it is the NRA, anti tax groups and chambers of commerce.

Thus politicians can be held captive, if they are not careful, by big money contributors or interest groups.

The most influential group is the media, left right and center. They reach millions of people every day and a few disparaging reports can severely damage your reputation and chances for re-election. Further the press likes to stir up controversy and the demands of the 24/7 news cycle doesn’t give them much time to analyze or investigate the ramifications of your votes or activities. Thus things may get misconstrued and the news may move on before you have had a chance to explain. Then the bloggers take over and the misconstrued fact is repeated million times and becomes embedded in the public psyche as true.

The spin put on a story either  by the media , your opponents or perhaps your own public relations people can soften or harden a story in your favor or against you.

Voting always is difficult. No matter how you vote there will always be someone who is hurt and dissatisfied with the vote. Frequently many bills reach the floor for a vote but interest groups have petitioned Senators to add clauses  that have no relation to the bill but will benefit something contrary to what the bill was intended to do. Thus you vote for the bill because you perceive it as mainly for the good  which outweighs the thorns necessary to get it passed. Later this can be brought up that you voted for the thorns without being able to explain that 90 percent of the bill was for a good cause.

Also the way you voted can be turned by a skillful media agent into a negative ad making you look like you are against motherhood, apple-pie and the flag.

(This book was written during Obama’s first term as a U.S. Senator from Illinois. He thought he had luck on his side in getting elected and it appears he did. The strongest Democratic contender dropped out of the primary and then the strongest Republican candidate had to withdraw.)

Despite all the pitfalls and chaos in the system Obama thinks it is still the best and with a few slight modifications it could be made better

In the end the citizen who votes responsibly is the most important person in a Democracy despite all the tricks and shenanigans of the professional groups seeking leverage and power.



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