Politics

<i>NYT</i>'s Brooks Gets Obama's Support (Mostly) Wrong

I had to chuckle to myself when I read David Brooks' lede this morning:

Barack Obama sells the Democratic Party short. He talks about his fund-raising success as if his donors were part of a spontaneous movement of small-money enthusiasts who cohered around himself. In fact, Democrats have spent years building their donor network. Obama's fund-raising base is bigger than John Kerry's, Howard Dean's and Al Gore's, but it's not different.

Brooks goes on for several paragraphs noting the kinds of people donating to Obama's campaign. Not surprisingly, they include "lawyers" and "people who work at securities and investment companies" and professors and bankers and private equity managers, oh my! By that definition, sure, Obama's support looks similar to previous Democratic candidates (and, but for the smaller figures on the bottom line, it looks like McCain's donors).

But what makes Brooks chuckleworthy is that Obama's "fund-raising success" is "different." Vastly different. And Brooks' failure to grasp this says more about the columnist's myopic view of the changing landscape of campaign funding than it does about Obama's success.

To appreciate what Obama's got going for him, I recommend the reading of Joshua Green's piece for The Atlantic entitled "The Amazing Money Machine." Green traces how Obama earned the support of key players in Silicon Valley - big thinkers who his Democratic rivals left untapped - and how these benefactors, more than any other group of lawyers of hedge-funders, built Obama's funding mechanism from the ground-up. Brooks notes that "information age" professionals make up the "real core of his financial support," but his anthropological gawkings leave out the key details:

What ultimately transformed the presidential race--what swept Obama past his rivals to dizzying new levels of campaign wealth--was not the money that poured in from Silicon Valley but the technology and the ethos.

The campaign's focal point is My.BarackObama.com, which has made better use of technology than its rivals since the beginning. As a consequence of this fact and the general enthusiasm over the candidate, Obama's Chicago-based staff is constantly besieged by suitors offering the latest applications, services, software, and widgets...

To understand how Obama's war chest has grown so rapidly, it helps to think of his Web site as an extension of the social-networking boom that has consumed Silicon Valley over the past few years. The purpose of social networking is to connect friends and share information, its animating idea being that people will do this more readily and comfortably when the information comes to them from a friend rather than from a newspaper or expert or similarly distant authority they don't know and trust. The success of social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and, later, professional networking sites like LinkedIn all but ensured that someday the concept would find its way into campaigning. A precursor, Meetup.com, helped supporters of Howard Dean organize gatherings during the last Democratic primary season, but compared with today's sites, it was a blunt instrument.

I also had to laugh at this assertion from Brooks:

Socially liberal knowledge workers naturally want to see people like themselves at the head of society, not people who used to run Halliburton and who are supported by a vast army of evangelicals.

While it's certainly true that "socially liberal knowledge workers" feel this way, it's more important to note that Bush's declining popularity indicates that most of the country wants people other than those "who used to run Halliburton and who are supported by a vast army of evangelicals" running the country. This can no longer be considered the exclusive proclivity of "the left."