In an August 14 report appearing on the front page of the paper's August 15 print edition ("Health Debate Fails to Ignite Obama’s Web"), Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times (pictured at right) gave readers a fairly accurate impression, while avoiding the word, of activism turning into apathy in Barack Obama's DNC- and White House-orchestrated Organizing for America (OFA) effort.
While Zeleny's report and detailed work came out of Iowa, his key finding is intended to be a national temperature gauge: "But if a week’s worth of events are any measure here in Iowa, it may not be so easy to reignite the machine that overwhelmed Republicans a year ago."
That's why it's odd, to say the least, that Zeleny ignored the results of the nationwide reignition attempt that occurred and largely failed this past week, namely its "Office Visits for Health Reform." In fact, there are some signs that "Office Visits" did OFA's cause more harm than good.
Here are some key paragraphs from Zeleny's report:
As the health care debate intensifies, the president is turning to his grass-roots network — the 13 million members of Organizing for America — for support.
Mr. Obama engendered such passion last year that his allies believed they were on the verge of creating a movement that could be mobilized again. But if a week’s worth of events are any measure here in Iowa, it may not be so easy to reignite the machine that overwhelmed Republicans a year ago.
More than a dozen campaign volunteers, precinct captains and team leaders from all corners of Iowa, who dedicated a large share of their time in 2007 and 2008 to Mr. Obama, said in interviews this week that they supported the president completely but were taking a break from politics and were not active members of Organizing for America.
Some said they were reluctant to talk to their neighbors about something personal and complicated like health care. And others expressed frustration at the genteel approach, asking why Democrats were not filling the town-hall-style meetings of Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee negotiating health care legislation, or Representative Leonard L. Boswell, a member of the moderate Blue Dog Democratic group.
.... Mitch Stewart, the executive director of Organizing for America who worked as the field director in the Iowa caucuses before running the Virginia operation in the general election, said there was no expectation that every supporter would remain active. Mr. Stewart said the group had chosen not to flood into meetings of Republican members of Congress, but rather to combat what they described as misinformation about the president’s health care plans.
I submit that the reason Mr. Stewart "has chosen not to flood into Republican meetings" is that he barely has enough interested OFA bodies behind him to create more than a trickle into Republican or Democratic congressional offices.
That's what "Office Visits for Health Reform" attempted to do during this past week, beginning with a supposedly motivating e-mail. Here is the one I received:
I set up a visit to Republican Jean Schmidt's office, and another one to the office of nearby Democratic Congressman Steve Driehaus, for Monday afternoon. What happened during those visits is here. The short story is that I was the very first OFA visitor to Driehaus's office as of 3 p.m. Monday, and the fourth to Ms. Schmidt's office as of 4 p.m. Of the three previous visitors to Schmidt's office that day, one, like me, was an ObamaCare opponent. That person had written "FREEDOM" in large letters inside the blank message box at the bottom of the second page of the “Office Visits for Health Reform Guide” (PDF) that OFA members had been asked to print out for their trip.
In a response to a Friday afternoon follow-up call, Ms Schmidt's communications director informed me that they had received "31 or 32" OFA visitors at that point -- an average of about one per hour. I also learned from a person in the office of Congressman and House Republican Leader John Boehner, whose district is also in Southwestern Ohio, that his two offices had received 40 and 15 OFA visitors, respectively, during the entire week to that point. A Friday phone call requesting follow-up information from Driehaus's Community Outreach/Field Representative was not returned as of 9:30 this morning.
Both Schmidt's and Boehner's offices reported that some OFA visitors believed that they had actually set up an appointment to see their Member of Congress face-to-face, and that some were miffed upon learning that this was not the case. On Wednesday, Greg Sargent at the Plum Line reported that aides for California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein had "complained to the White House about a deluge of visits to her offices by constituents who thought they had an appointment after OFA called on supporters to visit members of Congress ...." (to the White House? I though OFA was a "totally independent" DNC operation. Oops.)
Many congressmen and senators had a similar problem with OFA visitors' expectations. But OFA's original solicitation and its Guide cannot fairly be accused of creating that expectation. Readers can reach their own conclusions about the reading comprehension and mental acuity of those who really thought they could barge into a congressperson's schedule without first directly speaking with their office.
Working the numbers, the most generous (probably too generous) guess is that about 42,000 OFA people (50 visitors per congressperson x 435, plus 200 per senator x 100) visited congressional and senatorial offices this week. Keep in mind that whatever figure OFA releases should be discounted for ObamaCare opponents such as myself and the Schmidt visitor I cited, and for the fact that, as is the case in any effort such as this, many who promised to visit probably didn't.
My probably over-generous total of 42,000 is only 0.323% of OFA's alleged horde of 13 million. If OFA was trying to convince representatives and senators that there is widespread grass-roots support for statist health care, it failed miserably.
Unless he's doing a Jayson Blair act, it's highly unlikely that the Times's Zeleny didn't know about OFA's "Office Visits for Health Reform" campaign this past week. His failure to even acknowledge its existence is in fact backhanded proof that OFA's effort was indeed an epic fail.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.