Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Should Obama emulate Lincoln or FDR? It's irrelevant with 'democracy 2.0'

There's the continual debate over whether Barack Obama is or should be more like Lincoln or FDR. It's easy to get pulled into the debate because Lincoln and FDR are such huge change agents in American history, and comparisons to the 44th -- and "Change Now" -- President are irresistible.

But Obama, even before he's inaugurated, has already broken both the Lincoln and FDR molds with a new, 21st century model for how he wants to govern. He's done that by creating a Web-based grassroots force that could scarcely be imagined in Lincoln's or FDR's time -- and maybe any time right up to when Obama launched his presidential campaign in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 10, 2007 (where Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech).

Go to the post-election Obama site, and see why it isn't useful to debate whether Obama should pursue a Lincoln or FDR model. Make sure you drill down to the blog, "An American Moment" and other sections that encourage people to get involved in issues that animate them or maybe just bear witness. Behind most of this focused but non-frenetic post-election campaign is Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe, who, with Field Director Jon Carson, masterminded the primary strategy that nailed down whole contingents of delegates in caucus states, like Idaho, to exceed Hillary Clinton's successes in statewide votes where even a second-place performance by Obama was good for a healthy percentage of delegates.

What's clear is that Obama is attempting to create a permanent, post-election grassroots force. This force, if you read between the lines of the site, will be active not only through the first 100 but the next 1,360 days of the Obama administration. Signups will not just be cheerleaders for the Obama change mission in Washington, but active on the local and state levels in pushing climate-change, health-care reform and other Obama initiatives.

In Lincoln's administration, change was concentrated in his cabinet and in the military leaders he was active in selecting, pre-eminently Ulysses Grant. In FDR's administration, change was more horizontal -- extending from his brain trust and cabinet to the practical-minded idealists who were attracted to Washington, or conscripted, and filled old and newly created agencies. Under Obama, the agents of change will be more distributed -- to the grassroots across America, where hundreds of thousands of citizens who aren't in government and maybe don't want to be, but do want to participate in the transformation of America. Think "democracy 2.0."

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