It is hard for me to fathom that it has been nearly three years since I signed on as a supporter of Barack Obama. When I say signed on, it should be taken in the literal sense, as I was one of the first supporters in Ohio to become a part of MyBarackObama.com on February 10, 2007 -- the day he announced his candidacy. The things that brought me to the campaign were simple: the need for a candidate who understood what I wanted as a young, middle-class woman; a candidate whom I could trust; and a candidate whose intelligence was apparent but not arrogant. Barack Obama was that candidate for me.
On MyBarackObama.com, I was able to create a group in my community of Akron, Ohio. We started campaigning in the spring of 2007 by holding meetings at coffee houses and "honk for Obama" events at major intersections in the Akron area. It seems laughable now to think that much of the campaigning we did in those first few months was more about getting people to know who Barack Obama was, not promoting his campaign platform.
A primary came and went and suddenly the idea of Obama as the Democratic candidate was a reality. Throughout the campaign, BarackObama.com became a hub for what was going on and, more importantly, a place for the undecided voter to find out what our campaign stood for.
We worked and campaigned and suddenly a candidate became a president. I make this sound so simple, but it was not. I cannot even say that I understand how it happened, but what I can say is that I felt connected to something sweeping with its determination. The connection came both from those on the ground, in my local field office and, like never before, from this online grassroots community that was BarackObama.com.
A year has passed since President-elect Obama became President Obama, and BarackObama.com has transformed into Organizing for America (OFA), which now sits under the umbrella of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). While my belief in the potential of the Obama administration is strong, the connection I felt during the campaign has faded. It is true that sustaining that level of involvement in something by a large group of people is nearly impossible, but my loss of connection does not come from the lack of opportunity -- I receive emails on a near daily basis from OFA, and WhiteHouse.gov gives me access to all the latest information from within the Administration. The disconnection I feel comes from the Obama administration's struggle to move from campaign mode to governing mode.
One of the most costly mistakes that the Obama administration has made is failing to realize that pragmatism only works for those who can afford it. We cannot afford pragmatism. Being pragmatic is a quality that I respect when the situation warrants it. It seems, looking back over the last year and listening to the State of the Union, that Obama has spent too much time pushing bipartisanship when the situation calls for a more unilateral approach to governing. Those who worked the campaign and voted for him wanted change. How wonderful it would have been to achieve the change we needed through a bipartisan approach. However, that did not happen. We expected that Obama would abandon the pragmatic, bipartisan approach to achieve the long list of things that we wanted from this presidency -- health care reform with a public option, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," an end to the conflicts in the Middle East, and educational reform that gives us a better system and not just more standardized tests. While all these ideas have been talked about, so far none of these things have come to pass.
Along with this pragmatic approach, the Obama administration has made two other critical errors in their transformation from a campaign to an administration that has cast a negative shadow on the important things the administration has accomplished and left this presidency slipping in the numbers. The failure to recognize the short memory of the American people and a belief that Americans would seek out an explanation of the administration's economic plan on the Internet has left people blaming Obama for the economic meltdown, which started long before he thought about being president, and labeling him as out of touch with Main Street. This failure to communicate seems out of character for a campaign that laid out every policy and platform talking point and has left Obama a sitting duck for Right Wing rhetoric.
Some of these missteps in governance have come from a well-intentioned place and campaign promises that were cornerstones of Obama's election -- bringing people together (often through the Internet) and bringing the voice of the people back to Washington, instead of the voice of lobbyists. It is true that these things were a large part of what brought people to this campaign; however, they do not overshadow what we really wanted, a government that did not just pay lip service to the things that were of concern to the average American but acted on those important issues. Instead of pushing those issues, the Obama Administration has spent hours flooding us with information via WhiteHouse.gov, OFA, Facebook, and YouTube with the hope that the grassroots community would continue to campaign for the issues that were important to them and, in turn, the administration. I cannot say for sure that this was totally ineffective, but it fails to recognize that the job of the administration is two-fold. While they do have the responsibility to keep us informed, their primary responsibility is to move forward with actions that bring the ideas of the campaign to fruition and make no mistake that voters have not accepted all this information as the equivalent of progress. This was painfully apparent in the loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to Scott Brown. Brown's election played out like a bad version of the "Can you hear me now?" commercials from Verizon Wireless. Voters were quick to take out the frustration of their feelings of not being heard by the administration by electing a Republican to a seat long held by a Democrat.
You might have noticed that I used "our" while discussing the campaign and administration and that is no accident. I still feel a sense of ownership in this chapter of American history. When 2012 comes around, I will campaign for Barack Obama with as much passion as I did in 2008. This criticism of the first year should not be taken as a rejection of the Obama administration, but instead a call to put the past year behind us and learn to really listen to what voters are saying and begin to take action, with or without bipartisan support, before the 2010 election makes acting on their wishes impossible.